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Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) Initiative

Last updated: February 14, 2024

About PETs

The goal of privacy is to limit and minimize the collection and sharing  of personal data between business partners. However, some of the core functions of digital advertising such as ad targeting, measurement and attribution wholly rely on the ability to identify and share data on individual users. Given that digital advertising sustains the free and open internet, finding alternative ways to deliver these functions without revealing user’s personal data is key to meeting our privacy goals, and sustaining the free and open internet that so many of us have come to rely on. Today, there are advanced technologies namely encryption, differential privacy or k- anonymity, on device computing and secure multi party computation that can be readily applied to achieve this.

Over the past year, privacy-enhancing technologies have come into vogue, particularly as companies like Meta, Snowflake, Neustar, Criteo and others vocalize investments. PETs have the potential to impact much of the digital ads infrastructure that exists today. If PET use cases and integration surface area are developed in a fragmented, non-standardized manner, the cost of transition increases, and the potential for scaled, felt privacy impacts decreases. Notably, today’s conversations on PETs are happening in many places but are not being driven by a representative coalition of ads industry leaders

PETs can be sliced into two categories:

  • Those deployed by platforms like OSs and browsers (ex. Privacy Sandbox, SKAdNetwork, Privacy Click Measurement)
  • Those deployed ad hoc between pairs of ads ecosystem participants or multiple parties (ex. Ads Data Hub, Snowflake, InfoSum, Meta’s secure multi-party compute processes)

For the former, the work Tech Lab can do is reactive. Tech Lab won’t define what platforms or browsers do. In this category, Tech Lab can help ease transitions and contribute to discussions at the W3C and other forums where these are discussed and developed. For the latter, Tech Lab has the option to be proactive. Many of the players in the PETs space in ad tech are already Tech Lab members. Learn more about PETs here.

Further the expertise required for enabling ad hoc deployment of PETs between groups of ads ecosystem participants can be further broken down into:

  • How the PETs work internally: the math
  • The use cases the PETs support and the subsequent APIs

The former requires math and technology expertise: those confident in mathematical privacy techniques and inner workings of systems. Many of these techniques are readily available to be applied. The latter doesn’t require a new type of Working Group participant and leader. IAB Tech Lab’s Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) initiative will focus on the most impact potential: use case definition, API standards for PETs between pairs/groups of digital ads ecosystem participants, and stewarding open-source initiatives that could originate from this Working Group. Tech Lab might explore getting into the math side of PETs if specific needs are identified in the working group. PETs working group will bring together technology and digital advertising experts together to develop the standards and open source tools for evolving the application of PETs to digital advertising use cases. The initiative will primarily focus on:

  • Secure Multi party computation: How multiple parties can share, match and query data from multiple business partners without sharing or revealing the personal information on individuals
  • Differential Privacy: How we can apply differential privacy to analyze data and extract required business metrics without knowing the details for each individual in the data set
  • On-device analytics & learning: How we can minimize transfer of data and perform functions on the user’s device so their privacy is in their control at all times

The initiative involves comprehensive efforts to develop standards, guidance and evangelize PETs in digital advertising industry:

  1. PETs Working group will bring together experts to define and evolve standards and Open Source software projects as well as provide guidance on use and integration of PETs into Adtech stacks. Register here to join the PETs working group
  2. PETs Event series to educate and create awareness for application of PETs for the industry
  3. Evangelize Open Source Projects as determined by the PETs Working Group