Data privacy is one of the most vexing issues for marketers in 2019. For many it is likely to have far-reaching consequences; that is, it will remove hitherto trusted sources of information and drivers of key insights.
That’s because ongoing privacy crackdowns are shifting the ground beneath our feet and rapidly changing the game.
Here’s where the problem lies: over the last decade, in particular, a large number of companies that serve up solutions to marketers have conducted their activities in the shadows.
For consumers, these companies are routinely the unseen middleman in the transaction between advertiser and publisher. They may not have trust issues with rank and file individuals, but that’s simply because their existence is obscure to them.
“Some companies have been amassing large volumes of user data across loads of domains for years, and users have no idea,” said an ad tech executive who spoke on condition of anonymity in a recently published article. “They’ve built multi-million dollar businesses off the back of that. But it’s not their data - it’s publisher data,” the source added.
But the party - if the last drinks weren’t already being served - is coming to an end. And for marketers, these developments around data security could have a silver lining - eliminating the potential for “rubbish” audience data collection that they might otherwise put too much stock in.
Google’s implementation of its Chrome browser privacy controls last month, for example, is one-way data privacy is being tightened, albeit in a manner that, without being cynical, also protects Google’s own interests rather well.
While these new controls won’t arbitrarily block all third-party cookies, it will give users a choice as to whether they are blocked, and that’s bad news in some parts.
Interestingly, it’s worth noting that it’s not just consumers whose online data can easily be appropriated. Businesses are often the same and don’t have the proper protections in place to protect their own data.
The regulations that are coming into place today have come about largely as a consequence of unchecked power and a lack of regulatory oversight around the acquisition and distribution of data.
Recent media and technology headlines have accordingly been dominated by stories of security breaches, unauthorised data sharing and covert meddling with elections.
A tipping point in terms of public opinion was clearly reached following last year’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, which drew attention back to the unanticipated results of the US Presidential election and the UK Brexit referendum in 2016. Following this scandal, in particular, a growing chorus of calls has issued forth to tackle the issue of data privacy.
Coincidentally, it was also in 2016 that Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws were formally adopted, before coming into force in May last year. These regulations have made surreptitious collecting and sharing of data punishable with fines into the millions of Euros, putting tech companies well and truly on notice.
The instituting of GDPR is, of course, a classic case of an umpire being appointed to redress the balance of a game in which the players lost control.
But the issue needs to come back to some of the ‘players’ themselves and, most importantly, a reassessment of the value of third-party data. At the heart of the problem many marketers face is that they have, for a long time, relied on data sets that aren’t particularly useful in the first place.
One clear outcome of GDPR - and other regulations that will no doubt follow in its wake in the year ahead - is that it has shone a light on dubious data collecting practices and, more significantly, that this data relies heavily on inference.
Marketers who have sought this data out historically in search of quick wins will need to recalibrate and do their due diligence more thoroughly in future.
The first and most important strategy is evaluating whether audience data is actually useful to your business. In the world of media there are many accurate but non-audience specific data points, such as context, which might be neglected in favour of more “persona accurate” segments like demographics. Marketers need to work out what is truly worth focusing on.
It’s also important to note that cookie-less and device-less decisioning is on the rise. Businesses today need to consistently question audience collection methodology to determine accuracy. There is a big difference between data that is scraped based on browsing (which can paint an inaccurate picture) when compared to declared data points as search history and form fills.
Businesses need to start valuing their first party data even more than they currently are. But the issue currently is that many businesses don’t have adequate systems in place to collect and manage their first-party data, let alone protect it.
By implementing platforms without properly understanding how they work, businesses could be unwittingly granting these platforms access to collect and utilise their first party data. Ironically, it’s a scenario just like a consumer blindly clicking accept without reading the terms and conditions around accepting cookies.
These are the issues that marketers grappling with a new era of data collection need to come to terms with. If your business is not equipped to deal with these challenges, then it’s time to assess your options to change the status quo.
Tay Yu Yan is Dataxu’s APAC Commercials Manager.