Digital advertising, AdTech and third-party advertising

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This guidance note provides an update on charities responsibilities regarding programmatic advertising and what charities can do to protect their data.

With fundraisers continuing to pivot to digital fundraising, online advertising, and fundraising through social media platforms, a new way of working is being embedded across charities. More and more organisations are making digital fundraising a central pillar of their fundraising strategies, and the coronavirus pandemic has in many cases accelerated a shift in the tools and activities that take place. Charities may well now be working in different ways, with new partners and third parties, fundraising with digital tools that they didn’t even know existed at the start of 2020.

Change and innovation are positive and necessary – keeping up with how supporters respond and making sure that fundraising campaigns are as compelling as possible to continue to deliver a great experience. However, the continued adoption of new ways of working and the ongoing evolution in technology and tools does put a responsibility on organisations to ensure that they are using new methods of fundraising appropriately, and that they are on top of their data governance.

An area that charities should be carefully monitoring is how they track users of their websites, particularly in relation to programmatic advertising (AdTech).

Programmatic advertising, which utilises algorithms to buy advertising space, is used by many charities to engage more effectively with potential supporters and donors. It can help charities develop insights about the types of people viewing their content and how to best engage with them.

But there have been concerns raised about AdTech companies and the types of data (including sensitive data) that charities could be inadvertently sharing with them. And, as this often involves organisations identifying and recording personal data, it is essential that it is done in a way that is consistent with the principles and requirements of GDPR and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003, and according to relevant guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

What are the issues we should be aware of?

The use of cookies and tracking technologies on charity websites can enable third parties to build up a profile on the individuals accessing the site.

Concerns have been raised, for example by Pro-Privacy, that some charities have been inappropriately or inadvertently sharing data with third party AdTech companies, which may then be used to further profile individuals and/or sell their data to other organisations. This may be of particular concern if individuals are choosing to access pages connected to sensitive topics such as mental health awareness or information on what to do after a diagnosis.

Ensuring that where cookies are used, charities are collecting the correct consents and providing individuals with appropriate privacy information is also a key area. According to data protection rules, it’s necessary to ensure that the individuals are presented with the right information at the right time, and are asked for their consent before any tracking takes place through most cookies.

In addition, given the nature of the Adtech industry and how it operates,  charities may not be performing the activities or placing advertising themselves. They may instead be enlisting the services of agencies to place cookies and trackers on their websites and to manage targeted advertising. This does not mean that the charity  will have no obligations and responsibilities for the activity that takes place, as the charity will remain responsible for the actions of third party agencies and what is placed on its site or on third party platforms.

What can charities do to make sure that they are meeting good practices?

We recommend that our members take the following steps, if you have not already done so:

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