Commentary

Digital Marketing's Disconnect On Privacy Laid Bare

There is a slightly odd disconnect developing in adland if the latest research from Integral Ad Science is to be believed -- everybody agrees that privacy is a huge issue, but some believe it far more than others.

The curious takeaway from IAS's Industry Pulse predictions for the year ahead is that when the entire industry is asked what the big issue for 2019 is, they just about agree it is data privacy, at 55% of respondents.

It's only just above a need for consistent measurement, selected as a major issue by 54% of respondents and 49% who signalled this will be a big year for ad fraud.

Things become a little more complicated, however, when the researchers delve into buy and sell-side differences.

Curiously, the standout issue for brands in 2019 is a need for consistent measurement. With more than four in five picking this out as the prime issue for the year ahead, brands are way ahead on the issue. In fact, they're twice as likely to think it's the big one to watch this year as publishers are.

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Publishers are kind of flatlining across the main issues. Nothing really stands out as the standout question of the year, and they are consistently less concerned about any of the big talking points of 2019 than either brands or agencies.

For publishers, if you have to pick a takeaway, it would be that they are mostly concerned by ad fraud and brand safety, but less so (averaged out) than brands and agencies are themselves.

However, the point that screams out from the report is that in the advertising ecosystem, agencies are the most concerned about data privacy. It's the big issue for 70.5% of them -- nearly double the proportion of publishers that would be expected to have an interest in respecting data privacy.

Even brands, which you would think would be concerned by data privacy and the embarrassment an issue would cause, do not appear to be overly bothered.

As mentioned, for the guys who pay the ad bills, the need to find consistent measurement metrics is the big issue of the day -- for more than four in five.

January has already seen a massive fine from the French data watchdog against Google for data privacy breaches and confirmation that the ICO in London is also investigating the tech giant. Then, we also have a warning from Germany competition authorities that Facebook must stop amalgamating customer data across its apps.

To be clear, Google is appealing against the fine, and Facebook denies any wrongdoing. 

It seems particularly odd, then, that the brands that ultimately want to collect and process customer data in databases they can call their own are more concerned about measuring campaigns than ensuring they are GDPR compliant.

Similarly, the publishers their messages will appear on do not seem bothered about much -- least of all (nearly) data privacy. 

Two questions arise. One might seem very familiar to agencies, but it would appear that the middle people -- between a brand and publisher -- are being held responsible for data privacy. That would certainly account for why it's their prime issue for 2019.

Secondly, does this feel like brands and publishers have the attitude of "job done" when it comes to data privacy? Was GDPR compliance a box that needed ticking before normal life resumed? 

I was talking with the DMA just the other day about this. There appears to be a false sense of security that compliance is the end of the road rather than the beginning of the journey. Their team believes 2019 will shake this to the core by authorities across the EU probing the tech giants and the ad -tech firms to see exactly how personal or anonymised data is and how it has been obtained.

Put it this way -- the word "murky" popped up a couple of times to describe how most people on the outside feel, say, programmatic works, and so the year ahead will see privacy authorities probing away to see how compliant the industry is.

With this in mind, it seems curious that publishers and brands should be laid back about data privacy compared to other adland issues. 

Either worrying about privacy has been outsourced to agencies or publishers and brands think GDPR has now passed, and that is the end of it.

If either or both sides of the buy and sell equation are thinking "job done," the year ahead could be shaping up to be an unwelcome wakeup call. 

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