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Future of Media IAB Data & Privacy

‘The levy needed to crack’: Marketers consider IAB cookie consent conundrum


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

February 8, 2022 | 6 min read

The IAB was last week hit by a landmark ruling that will change how the majority of advertisers obtain permission to deliver personalized marketing to Europeans on the internet. Like anything adtech, it’s taken time for them to understand the repercussions of the move.


How will this landmark ruling affect marketers?

A complaint issued by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) and guided by the Belgian Data Authority (in conjunction with other nations) succeeded in poking holes in the legality of the framework used by 80% of Europe’s websites to track web users. It was found to process user data in an illegal manner on multiple counts. IAB Europe, which still denies its position as a data controller (a nuance the entire case was built upon), has been fined, has six months to fix the shortcomings and marketers using the tool have been ordered to deleted their data. It may well appeal the finding too.

But how will this impact marketers in the meantime?

Digital advertising trade association IAB Europe guides advertisers on the legalities of data capture, tracking and privacy. Many use its Transparency & Consent Framework (TCF) to distribute personalized ads to Europeans. IAB Europe is confident it can get the TCF up to code.

Adrien Thil, chief privacy officer of Smart AdServer, isn’t worried. It might even be positive news. “The ruling doesn’t question the principle of the TCF itself – meaning the use of the framework to collect and transmit consent has actually been indirectly validated. This is something publishers – and their data protection officers – have been waiting for. The criticisms that exist are mainly of a legal nature, which means this news might impact us on the documentation side, but likely in no other way that truly matters.”

Tanya Field, co-founder and chief product officer of Novatiq, predicts “short-term pain and long-term gain.” “Vendors are now looking at how they can re-engineer their approach to move away from their reliance on legitimate interest and this method of audience creation and delivery.”

Alexander Azarov, chief executive and founder of Clickio, agrees that there is a roadmap to compliance within the TCF. “We might therefore have a more robust, fraud-proof framework in place. In the meantime, it’s vital publishers and developers keep on top of evolving regulations as they happen. Moves like these have the potential to impact consent rates.”

The consent pop-ups themselves were imperfect and visibly obfuscated. “Pop-ups felt like a way of frustrating this choice. Despite ostensibly handing back more control to consumers, few can be happy with the barrage of cookie consent notifications that need to be navigated every time they load up a new site. It felt like the levy needed to crack.”

Farhad Divecha, managing director and founder of digital marketing agency AccuraCast, goes one step further. He calls the cookie consent banners “a joke,” adding: “At best they’re seen as an irksome presence on every website that people just ignore. Few people take the time to read and understand what they’re actually consenting to.”

And that’s the crux. If it is easier to understand what the cookies do, and if it is easier to decline them, then more people will. Divcheva says: “It’s obviously not in any advertiser or publisher’s immediate interests to make it easy to decline tracking and cookies.”

He adds: “The new directive seems to be a big win for privacy, and could be quite a blow for advertisers and ad platforms. The only people who are likely to come out winners here are legal and GDPR experts, and the tools that allow websites to implement consent mechanisms.”

Simon Spyer, chief executive of data-driven marketing at Iris, warns: “Marketers need to get serious about the experience they’re delivering for their consumers and the imperative to gather well-permissioned first-party data as a prerequisite to building any human relationship. Perhaps the industry shouldn’t be relying on the vested interests of the IAB to set the rules.”

Ben Barokas, founder and chief executive at Sourcepoint, says it serves as a “wake-up call to marketers who may have questioned the necessity of transparency as a strategy.” The build-back, he argues, “must be broader than regulatory compliance and it needs to be rooted in data ethics.”

Julien Hirth, co-founder and general manager at Scibids, says this news and Facebook’s first user base retraction “reminds us that the industry’s reliance on personal data as the fuel for marketing performance is unsustainable and existential.

“We trust the IAB to revise the TCF that safeguards scaled attribution and interoperability between platforms while increasing transparency and trust for consumers, which should be the north star of the ecosystem.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Carmody, chief marketing officer of ViewersLogic, voices a concern that the erosion of the framework will harm independent ad businesses more than the increasingly entrenched giants. “If the TCF is suspended, we could potentially see a movement toward Google AdBuyers, further strengthening a very dominant player.”

We conclude with Nigel Jones, co-founder of Privacy Compliance Hub. “Potentially, the foundations of a large part of that industry are crumbling. This will be worrying for online publishers, but the muddy pond that is the online advertising ecosystem may be about to get clearer.”

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