The ICO has today (25 November 2021) published its opinion on the proposals from the adtech industry in response to its 2019 Report on the industry. 

The opinion states that the ICO is of the view that the developments from Google and other market participants to-date "are not sufficiently mature to assess in detail". The ICO considers that these market stakeholders have not demonstrated compliance with the law, or how proposals and developments result in better data protection outcomes. The ICO continues to reserve its detailed analysis and responses to specific proposals and the detailed consideration of the broader impacts they may have, until such time as the ecosystem reaches an appropriate level of development. On this basis, the ICO has outlined it expectations with respect to adtech solutions of the future and emphasises its continued expectation that market players continue to address issues highlighted in the ICO's 2019 report. 

The ICO recognises that it has focused on Google's sandbox given their position in the market. However, the ICO has also considered other alternatives in its opinion. An overarching concern of some critics of cookie alternatives is that they may introduce new or different tracking vectors. With reference to this criticism, the ICO has reiterated that the provisions of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) and data protection law are technology neutral, such that the ICO's guidance applies to the use of cookies and similar technologies in all circumstances involving information storage, or access to stored information, on individuals' devices. With this in mind, any new approaches proposed for the adtech ecosystem will need to ensure no additional privacy threat vectors are introduced, and that they do not lead to increased fingerprinting, or both.

Adtech and real-time bidding are areas which the ICO are closely scrutinising. In a recent interview, Elizabeth Denham (the Information Commissioner), made it clear that the ICO's work in this area had been delayed by the pandemic when she said: "My office works on the basis of the highest risk of harm...[and]...we undertook the investigation into real-time bidding and adtech. We wrote a report that set out our expectations of companies in the way that they operate real-time bidding. We gave companies six months to comply with our findings in the report but we had to pause the work because of the pandemic. And the ICO doesn't have unlimited resources as a regulator". We should expect more to come from the ICO in this area.