European Commission clears telco advertising joint venture

The European Commission has unconditionally approved the creation of a joint venture by Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica, and Vodafone to support digital advertising.  

MOW posted about this project last year, which was then in a trial phase and existed under the moniker TrustPiD. See our post here

The Telecoms supported solution will work by generating a pseudonymised ID based on each mobile phone user’s unique MSISDN number. This generated ID is then shared with third parties, allowing publishers to recognise users without revealing identifiable personal information. Crucially, the system would create a persistent identifier which could not be blocked or interfered with through browser setting changes. The unilateral removal of all third-party cookies by Google, for instance, would not prevent publishers accessing valuable user data from a user Telco ID.  

As explained in a filing to DG Comp, this is all conditional on robust opt-in consent from the user, who can review which brands their ID has been shared with and is able to withdraw consent at any point.  

MOW of course welcomes any entry into the overly concentrated advertising industry. Competition is the only viable antidote to monopolistic prices.   

However, from our perspective there are two key shortcomings to the TrustPiD proposal.  

The first, which has been noted by TechCrunch, is that, when given a choice, users tend not to opt-in to tracking. Only 25% of iOS 14 users have, for instance, opted-in to app tracking under ATT. This is of course somewhat skewed by Apple’s suggestive choice architecture which arguably encourages users to opt-out of consent. But, nonetheless, the benefits of the de-concentration of data access are difficult to convey in a consent box, meanwhile terms like commercial surveillance carry significant weight. One potential means to encourage uptake might be through rebates on phone bills in line with the value generated.  

The trickier problem with TrustPiD is that, whilst the token will allow websites to recognise users on their websites, it only provides a single source of data. Dominant AdTech players like Google have innumerable access points to commercially valuable information and have overtime co-mingled datasets to create “superprofiles”. Any new entrant will struggle against such an entrenched incumbent. For a telecoms solution to work, online activities shared through user IDs will have to be properly rationalised and categorised by those with expertise in digital advertising.    

Any feedback on potential solutions would be very welcome. Please email [email protected]

Header image courtesy of Christian Lue via Unsplash (Licensed for free use under the Unsplash license)