Exploring Privacy Enhancing Technologies as a Potential Solution to Privacy in AdTech

November 30, 2023

Advertisers are highly motivated to find ways to take full advantage of digital marketing — without triggering a privacy breach. The AdTech ecosystem is just as motivated to find solutions, with billions of dollars in ad revenue at stake.

// By Jane Weber Brubaker //


Healthcare marketers have been scrambling to find ways to reclaim the data analytics they’ve grown accustomed to while also staying in compliance with HIPAA and its latest dictates, published in a bulletin from HHS last December. On the other side of the fence, the AdTech world has been working just as feverishly to retain its attractiveness to digital marketers and protect consumer privacy.

Privacy Enhancing Technologies, or PETs, is an umbrella term covering a variety of technologies that can be used alone or in conjunction with others to protect privacy. According to Clearcode, “PETs are designed to help companies protect user privacy while still enabling them to collect and use data for programmatic advertising.”

Some examples of PETs include differential privacy, on-device learning, K-anonymity, and secure multi-party computation.

The U.S. Census used differential privacy in the 2020 census with the goal of providing statistics in aggregate while preventing the possibility of reverse engineering the data to discover personal information. The technique involved introducing “noise” into the system, or computer-generated inaccuracies designed to protect confidentiality. A 2022 New York Times article, The 2020 Census Suggests That People Live Underwater. There’s a Reason, states, “Differential privacy algorithms can be tuned to meet precise confidentiality needs,” suggesting that the level of noise can be turned up or down to achieve the target.

Anthony Katsur

Anthony Katsur, CEO, The IAB Tech Lab

The IAB Tech Lab, an independently-governed branch of IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau), created the PETs Working Group in February 2022 to explore potential use cases for PETs in digital advertising. To learn more about PETs and the current state of evolution in AdTech, we spoke with Anthony Katsur, CEO of IAB Tech Lab. In the interview that follows, Katsur gives an overview of PETs and discusses how these technologies can protect consumer privacy. [Edited for clarity and brevity.]

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