IAB Europe locks horns with Belgian regulator over open web tracking framework

A long-running dispute between the EU regulator and a major ad trade body has intensified, with a key component of ad tracking hanging in the balance.

This month, the Belgian Data Protection Authority told The IAB Europe that it will move forward with plans to rule over the trade body’s attempt to sustain third-party addressability on the open web, also known as the Transparency & Consent Framework (TCF).

This is despite the Belgian Market Court's interim ruling of September 7th 2022 that declared the Belgian Data Protection Authority’s decision on the TCF illegal because of the regulator's “lack of due care”.

In response, the IAB Europe has issued a statement saying that it  firmly believes the Belgian regulator's decision cannot be enforced.

However, the IAB said the action plan is still a "basis for discussion to continue the work on improving the TCF".

The Market Court found that the APD's decision was illegal due to irregularities at the stage of the APD's investigation. What's more, the measures proposed in the action plan stem directly from the assumption that TC Strings (digital signals containing user preferences) should be considered personal data and that IAB Europe acts as a (joint) controller for the dissemination of TC Strings and other data processing done by TCF participants.

The Belgian Market Court decided to seek guidance from the Court of Justice of the European Union on both these points.

What is the TCF?

First set up in 2016, then revised in 2019, The TCF aims to standardise how businesses — publishers and ad tech vendors predominantly, but also agencies — can continue running programmatic advertising on the open exchange in a way that is compliant with GDPR.

This would involve measures that prevent vendors from misusing data such as personally sensitive information within programmatic bid requests.

Townsend Feehan, CEO of IAB Europe, said: “The questions that have been referred to the CJEU are foundational as they call into question whether an enforcement action should have been brought against IAB Europe in the first place. Pending the answers from the CJEU on the matter, we look forward to soliciting guidance from Data Protection Authorities to deliver extended functionality to the TCF. ”

An updated FAQ on the case may be consulted on IAB Europe’s website here.