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Time to Build for Privacy

When I come across regulatory proposals like “Lawmakers Plan Legislation to ‘Ban Surveillance Advertising’”or petitions to request the prohibition of targeted advertising, it makes me cringe that the authors completely overlook an opportunity for privacy and personalized marketing/ advertising to coexist. I do understand that the digital world is becoming more and more integrated with our everyday lives. This has led to an increase in data privacy concerns as well, but new technology can protect consumers while supporting an addressable advertising ecosystem. 

Innovations in data privacy technology have been made recently that promise to provide more privacy for consumers while still enabling advertising use cases. Apple has rolled out SKAdNetwork and Private Click Measurement for privacy safe ad measurement and attribution. The Google Chrome team has provided a timeline for several new technologies to be introduced as part of the Privacy Sandbox that replace third party cookies. Many privacy and web technology experts are actively discussing private methods of accomplishing digital advertising functions at W3C, specifically in the Private Ad Technology Community Group. There’s no shortage of effort being put into developing new technology for securing user privacy in personalized advertising.

The evolution of privacy technology in adtech is creating new opportunities for partners to collaborate on data without sacrificing the privacy of consumers. Cryptography, On-Device computing & Differential Privacy are just some examples that show how technology has moved forward in recent years. Some early applications are Google’s Ads Data hub, Meta’s Private Computation framework based on secure multi party computing, sophisticated data clean rooms from Snowflake and Infosum and upstarts like Optable and privatized machine learning for marketing analytics from Neustar

The future of advertising starts with privacy and together these technologies promise long term sustainable foundations that build privacy and data security in digital channels; and such technologies  are more commonly referred to as ‘Privacy Enhancing Technologies’ or PETs for short.

So what are PETs?

For those who are well versed with some of the concepts mentioned above and want to jump right in, here are some good examples:

More broadly though, PETs are technology solutions that use one or more of the following technologies to effectuate complex data processing functions in digital advertising without revealing the user’s personal information. Some of the common technologies used in developing PETs solutions are:

  • Secure Multi Party Computation: A process that enables multiple parties to share, match and query data from multiple business partners without sharing or revealing the personal information on individuals
  • Differential Privacy: Technique and methods to analyze data and extract required business metrics without knowing the details of each individual in the data set
  • On-device Analytics & Learning: Mechanisms that minimize the transfer of data by performing processing functions on the user’s device so that their privacy and data is in their control at all times

While Privacy Enhancing Technologies are new to digital advertising, they are not an entirely new concept. We see them used in corporate finance, health care,  insurance and even the US Census Bureau to preserve privacy. 

Privacy Enhancing Technologies will play a crucial role in the  sustainability and fundamentally immanent private experience on the internet. 

To accomplish this though, we need PETs foundations that are well defined – so that they can be interoperable and easy to scale across different partners or domains of technology like browsers, servers etc. 

Our Privacy Enhancing Technologies initiative is a comprehensive program that will convene a new working group to define PET use cases in advertising and e-commerce, establish technical standards, and evangelize open-source projects to develop such technologies within our industry. It includes launching an event series to educate and grow awareness of PETs and their importance across the wider industry. 

We are looking for experts, engineers and researchers working in adtech and data privacy-related fields to join PETs Working Group. By doing so you will  help to develop technology that will be crucial to a sustainable, private internet! 

If you want to be part of a group that impacts how we live our lives online in the future, join us today!


Shailley Singh
Senior Vice President, Product
IAB Tech Lab