Alphabet unit Google and digital advertising firms are the targets of fresh privacy complaints filed in six EU countries on Thursday over the way they sell ads to potential advertisers through a bidding process.
Since 2018, complaints have been filed in 15 EU countries over real-time bidding systems, the core of today's online advertising industry, for allegedly breaching Europeans' privacy rights.
The method is used by Google and member companies of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a standards and lobbying group for the global online advertising industry representing more than 650 media and technology companies.
The Berlin-based Civil Liberties Union for Europe, the UK-based Open Rights Group and freedom and human rights group the Panoptykon Foundation coordinated complaints from digital and human rights groups in Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Romania to their national privacy watchdogs.
"Today, more civil society groups are saying enough with this invasive advertising model and are asking data protection authorities to stand up against the harmful and unlawful practices they use," Orsolya Reich, Liberties' senior advocacy officer, said in a statement.
The group urged the privacy bodies in the six countries to team up with lead supervisory bodies in Ireland and Belgium, which are looking into similar complaints.
"A joint investigation is necessary here, as real-time bidding functions in the same way across borders and produces the same negative effects in all EU member states," the group said.
Google has said it has already implemented strong privacy protections in consultation with European regulators and is committed to complying with the GDPR, the landmark EU data protection regulation which came into effect in 2018.
The IAB earlier this week rejected a preliminary report by the Belgian data enforcer, saying it showed a fundamental misunderstanding of its standard used by companies to comply with GDPR rules.
Real-time bidding systems are based on collecting people's browsing history, which may reveal intimate personal data, which are then broadcast to hundreds or thousands of companies so they can auction and place ads. Consumers' consent is not sought.