Data Driven Advertising. How Personal Is it?

With Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data being a hot topic and GDPR in the spotlight, the industry is dominated by questions of what the digital advertising platforms, Google and Facebook know about any particular person. There are concerns that people are being personally identified when being selected to be shown a particular ad.

Google, Facebook and larger data sets are derived by adding more data from many digital and non-digital touch points. All this data is combined, mined and segmented to create target audiences with all personal identification removed at source or during data cleaning processes. 1st, 2nd and 3rd party data, with accuracy versus reach and the amount of inferred data used, can create relevancy that can be easily mistaken for personal identification.

The bottom line is that there is no personal identification when an ad is chosen to be shown in an ad slot on any device be it mobile or desktop. The relevancy for the ad is based on past behavior and demographics and perhaps with the exception of re-targeting which is usually based on very recent browser history, the more data touch points that are amalgamated the more accurate the ad relevancy is likely to be.

The General Data Protection Regulations in the EU are being implemented to give people more control on the personal data that is collected and stored on them and to give them the ability to give consent for the information being collected and stored, and to enable them to have it deleted. Recent surveys have shown that it is personal data such as social security numbers, passport details, biometric data, addresses, financial history etc. that people are the most concerned about.  Browser history, consumer behavior and social interactions were very low on the list of concerns.

Although personal advertising is being affected by the GDPR it is not the reason it was introduced, and it remains to be seen how many people will opt out of having data collected about them when visiting websites.

As digital advertising has become more personal and people are seeing ads that are relevant to them we have generally become less annoyed by ads compared to the past when we were bombarded with ads that were just not relevant to our lifestyle and circumstances. There is less emphasis on ad blockers these days as the apparent personalization of ads seem to make them less intrusive.

Without using data for relevancy, we could return to the days of irrelevant ads, hence it will be interesting to see how many people opt out of data collection over the coming months and if this reverts over time due to the results. In my view, although we will see opt outs initially, the rates will still be quite low, as with the introduction of the cookie warning a few years back.

With ad relevancy improving over the last year (with the exception of those that don’t use frequency capping) ads are less annoying and unless the opt in request on websites becomes a horror story with a list of scary requests, a simple click in the box may well become second nature.

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