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The European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA) represents more than 2,500 communications agencies and agency associations from 30 European countries that directly employ more than 120,000 people. EACA members include advertising, media, digital, branding and PR agencies. Their service offering includes the development of brand-building and promotional ad campaigns and the creation and distribution of suitable ad formats across a range of media channels.

In today’s tech-centric and data-driven marketplace, advertising and media agencies increasingly need to work closely with online platforms such as Google and Facebook. Such platforms have built vast audiences from whom to collect enormous volumes of data on a daily basis. In turn, they’re more powerful in the advertising marketplace. Whilst they undoubtedly bring great innovation and opportunity, their dominant position also leads to a number of anti-competitive practices and behaviours.

First, there are significant issues related to data access.

Certain online platforms have created walled gardens of data inside their own organisations and often either refuse to provide access at all and/or will only provide it for an extortionate sum. Agencies strongly believe they have a right to receive data related to campaigns in which they have invested on behalf of their clients.

In addition to the above, certain technology platforms do not provide any 3rd party verification of audiences. In some cases, this includes a refusal to provide independent confirmation of actual media delivery vs campaign investments – essentially meaning agencies are forced to accept platforms’ own self-declared numbers. This is completely contrary to the way in which media delivery is verified on any other media channel.

Furthermore, some online platforms actively promote and sell the value of their audiences based upon highly targeted profiling metrics, but subsequently only deliver reports with much more general and generic audience data. This limits the agencies’ ability to provide effective advice and guidance to their clients.

Secondly, an equally significant issue relates to terms and conditions. Due to the growing dominance of these platforms, agencies are effectively forced to utilise them on behalf of their clients. As a result, the platforms use this leverage to demand pre-formulated and non-negotiable terms and conditions – including acceptance of limited data access, lack of independent audience verification and unreasonable payment terms. Finally, these same online platforms sometimes make sudden changes to their terms and conditions without any opportunity for discussion or negotiation.

For the above reasons, EACA advocates regulatory action, rather than a solution based entirely around collaboration within the advertising industry. EACA does not believe a soft law option is sufficient to solve existing problems. As a result, we support either Option 2 (second or fourth sub-option) or Option 3, which would lead to targeted EU legislation being adopted. Such regulation should ensure a minimum required level of transparency about data collection practices as well as facilitating ‘fair playing-field’ and ‘GDPR compliant’ access to relevant data. In addition, audience and campaign data must be independently verified – as for any other media channel. Finally, the legislation must help tackle the issue of non-negotiable terms and conditions, including a clearly defined dispute resolution process.

In summary, whilst EACA is generally a major supporter and advocate of industry self-regulation, in this case additional clarity and force is required. The issues are too deep, broad and all-encompassing. Legislation is urgently needed.

EACA will remain a fervent supporter of the need for transparency in data collection, processing and analytics as well as creating an environment in which all relevant data is accessible to the specific stakeholders involved.

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