The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) should investigate the digital advertising industry “as a matter of urgency”, according to Which?

‘People-based marketing’ has become a feature of the digital advertising market, but its impact and consequences are widespread and poorly understood, says the consumer rights organisation.

“The concentration of the digital advertising industry in Facebook and Google’s hands could be harming consumers through supply- chain impacts,” it says. “The Lords Communications Select Committee has recently called for the CMA to conduct a market study following its report on UK advertising in a digital age and we strongly support this.”

In new report, Control, Alt, or Delete, Which? also says that consumers and their advocates need more transparency about the impact that personal data has on their lives.

“Our research found that consumers usually judge the acceptability of data collection and use by what impact it has on their lives, as opposed to information about the collection and purpose.”

It says that companies need to consider how they can ensure people understand the impact of the use of their data, at the time they are transacting with them. “Government, regulators, businesses and consumer advocates must come together to understand the impacts of data usage.”

Which? envisages a “strong role” for the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation to coordinate this action.

It adds that it is time for a “thoroughgoing review of governance of data in motion, with due attention given to creative ways to provide improve oversight and enforcement”. Data portability is an important new right in the GDPR, with significant potential to empower consumers, and the UK Government is due to look at this in a ‘smart data’ review.

“However,” says Which?, “we are concerned that take-up will be limited if people do not trust the data ecosystem sufficiently. A way needs to be found that allows innovation but also improves the ability to provide oversight and enforcement.

“This is likely to mean understanding potential technological solutions that could provide truly decentralised and scalable accountability for how data flows.

“We think that a review of the governance of data in motion should be a priority for the new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, alongside the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO’s) planned work on reference agencies and data brokers.”

In response, the ICO said in a statement: “This research is a timely and valuable contribution to the debate on data protection, privacy and the digital economy.”

Steve Wood, deputy commissioner (policy), said: “We completely agree that consumers need more help realising the value and importance of their personal data. That’s why, to coincide with the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we have launched a public awareness campaign called ‘Your Data Matters’.

“As consumers, sharing data safely and efficiently can make our lives easier, but that digital trail is valuable so it’s important that it stays safe and is only used in ways that we would expect and can control.

“In many ways it feels like we are at a data ethics tipping point in respect of the public’s trust in the way that their personal data is collected and used. This reinforces the need for fairness, transparency and accountability.

“Our new technology strategy identifies three priorities: artificial intelligence, cyber security and cross device tracking. These priorities will drive the ICO’s policy, research, education and enforcement work over the next two years.”