Media Groups Accuse Google Of GDPR Power Grab

Publisher trade groups representing thousands of newspapers and media organisations have accused Google of making unreasonable demands on them as it brings in new advertising rules to comply with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The EU passed the GDPR nearly two years ago, but a 24-month grace period ends on 25 May, when enforcement effectively begins. As a result, a number of organisations are altering their privacy practices to comply with the law.

Google updated its policies for advertisers about one month ago, telling publishers they must share any data they receive from users with the search giant if they use Google’s platform to sell ads.

Google said it would not disclose how it uses the data. At the same time, the company says publishers, not Google, are liable if GDPR violations occur.

Data control

The GDPR permits data protection regulators to impose massive fines on organisations that abuse the law.

Google controls the lion’s share of the online advertising market, and as a result its ad software and platforms for buying and selling ads are the most widely used. One unnamed major media company, for instance, said 60 percent of its revenue comes through Google, Ad Age reported.

The letter from four trade associations, sent to Google on Sunday and released publicly on Monday, says the new policies appear to be designed to protect the search company’s existing business model, undermining “the fundamental purposes of the GDPR” and publishers’ efforts to comply with it.

The five-page letter was signed by Digital Content Next, European Publishers Council, News Media Alliance and News Media Association, representing about 4,000 media organisations, mostly in Europe and North America, including Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg, Condé Nast, The New York Times, The Guardian and Telegraph Media Group.

“Your proposal severely falls short on many levels,” they wrote.

Google said it already uses publishers’ data to test algorithms, improve user experiences and ensure the accuracy of its ad forecasting system, and that the new rules would allow it to continue to do so.

Publishers also criticised Google for making the changes at “the last minute”, leaving publishers no time to assess them.

“As the major provider of digital advertising services to publishers, we find it especially troubling that you would wait until the last-minute before the GDPR comes into force to announce these terms as publishers have now little time to assess the legality or fairness of your proposal and how best to consider its impact on their own GDPR compliance plans which have been underway for a long time,” the letter said.

“Nor do we believe that this meets the test of creating a fair, transparent and predictable business environment.”

Digital Content Next chief executive Jason Kint told Reuters: “These big tech behemoths are focused on protecting their massive collection of personal data rather than aligning with the spirit of these new rules and raising the bar on consumer trust.”

‘True partnership’

Publishers said Google should disclose how it uses data in order to preserve a “true partnership” with them.

They also disputed Google’s claim that it is what the GDPR terms a “data controller”, saying that instead it should in some cases act as a “data processor”, handling data under instructions from another party.

“Claiming such broad rights over all data in the ecosystem, without full disclosure and without providing publishers the option for Google to act as a processor for certain types of data, appears to be an intentional abuse of your market power,” the letter said.

Google has said it makes decisions on data processing to help publishers increase their ad revenues, which makes it a data controller.

“This designation does not give us any additional rights to data” than those already covered by its contracts with publishers, Google said in a statement.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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