Pieter de Zwart
Sep 11, 2019

Consumer data concerns: Let’s admit there’s a problem

The status quo isn't working. Time to give users real control over the data they share and end the game of Whac-A-Mole between advertisers, browsers and users.

Consumer data concerns: Let’s admit there’s a problem

The adtech industry today is effectively chasing coins into oncoming traffic. We are taking user concerns like privacy entirely too lightly, or talking about shiny things like "cookieless," which to date is more hope than strategy.

If we don’t address these issues quickly and effectively, the industry is in for a moment of reckoning. Collectively, we are not dealing with the long-term threats with combined, shared resources.

Advertising still provides the majority of revenue for major media companies like Facebook, Hearst and CNN. Recent privacy regulations and consumer pushback are setting up a case study on the law of unintended consequences. Depending on which way we go, we could decimate an industry of online publishers whose content powers the free and open internet as we know it.

It is essential that we bring these issues to light and address them head-on—before anyone does anything rash, like trying to break up Google or Facebook. Some advocate for the abandonment of advertising as a business model, but let’s instead consider the many ways we can make advertising better. TV, and it's not-so-little siblings over the top and video on demand, are still heavily subsidized by advertising, so why can't we make the internet work in the same way? We must acknowledge that advertising is a necessary exchange for the quality content consumers want.

The "cookieless" future is likely better described as the actual solutions currently being proposed: browser-level identifiers, global single sign-on (using cookies), first-party cookies, universal identifiers (using cookies), paywalls (using cookies) and a return to the dark ages of contextual advertising.

From a design standpoint, the first—browser-level identifiers—is by far the most appealing. They:

  • give users control over their data;
  • enable data sharing and usage to be more easily traced throughout the ecosystem;
  • equip advertisers with the ability to better manage, measure and execute their campaigns; and
  • provide publishers with greater transparency and increased revenues, thereby creating better content for end users.

The status quo obviously isn’t working. Consumers, in my opinion, should have access to a built-in component within their browsers that allows them to control the data they share and understand how it is being used by advertisers and their technology partners. We also need to stop pretending that the answer is solutions leveraging cookies, such as single sign-on or universal IDs. Most cookie opt-out solutions use cookies, which is short-sighted and incredibly ironic. That’s a prime example of another short-term solution for a long-term problem.

If browsers can implement native privacy measures and controls, is it really that crazy that they could also build in native advertising identifiers? They would be able to enforce privacy terms they deem suitable for their end users, end the game of Whac-A-Mole between advertisers, browsers and users, and everyone can go back to creating value for users, publishers and advertisers again. Done in conjunction with the IAB to provide neutral insight and standardization, we may have a real winner.

There are many options we can consider, but we should choose and align behind one—soon. We’ve ignored the concerns of consumers for too long, and it is going to bite us in the backside if we don’t take action.

While the public understands, to some extent, that advertising is the price they pay for great digital content, we’ve tipped the scales too much in our favour. We need to start showing respect for the consumer, handing back control and delivering better online experiences. The quarters we’re chasing aren’t worth the potential catastrophe ahead.


Pieter de Zwart is chief technology officer at audience technology platform Eyeota. This article first appeared online in ad tech news publication AdExchanger, based in the US.

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