European Telecom Giants Bid to Develop Privacy-Led Digital Ad Platform

The EU's antitrust team will review the proposal from Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Telefonica

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Four of Europe’s largest telecom operators—Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and Vodafone—have formed a joint venture, which will see them develop their own digital advertising platform.

The initiative was presented to the European Union’s antitrust watchdog Jan. 6 with the aim of creating a “jointly controlled, full-function” digital advertising platform with each owning each share.

This would allow the companies to compete with major tech businesses such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Meta’s digital advertising businesses. The initiative is reported to have begun development last year and is seen by the organizations as a potential alternative to third-party cookies, which Google aims to phase out in 2024.

According to the EU’s notice on the proposal, the platform will aim to offer “a privacy-led digital identification solution to support the digital marketing and advertising activities of brands and publishers.”

The platform will operate under “explicit user consent” from the brand or publisher using an opt-in basis and will generate “a secure, pseudonymized token derived from a hashed/encrypted pseudonymous internal identity linked to a user’s network subscription, which will be provided by participating network operators.”

The token, which lasts for 90 days, will allow the brand or publisher to recognize the user without revealing identifiable personal data while delivering display ads across sites and apps. Users will also be able to review the brands and publishers they have given consent to and withdraw that consent when they wish.

The commission will then decide whether to allow the proposal to proceed Feb. 10. Should it have concerns, it will have a four-month period of investigating any antitrust issues and offer remedies to the proposal if needed.

The initial test of the mobile network began in Germany last May—named “TrustPid”—and the aim of the platform will be to offer a “secure and privacy-friendly” alternative. The technology for the platform was developed by Vodafone, which then approached Deutsche Telekom to collaborate to expand the network across the country, a spokesperson for Vodafone explained.

The trial has also involved publications from both Axel Springer and RTL alongside German advertisers to asses and evolve the user experience with a philosophy that aims to “improve consumer relationships with advertisers and support publishers and a free internet model.”

Privacy regulators in Germany and across Europe have also offered feedback ahead of approaching the EU for clearance. Should that be received, the four networks will form a new company to commercialize the platform.

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