Interactive Advertising Bureau
14 April 2021

Member Guest Post with Admitad - Choice to be Tracked: Balancing Between Big Data, GDPR and Privacy

In this week's member-guest post, we hear from Igor Gubin, Region Manager Europe at Admitad Affiliate Network, as he delivers his views on big data and why we need to find more ethical and legal approaches to it. 

Why Data is Key - the Past, the Present, the Future

To discover what lies behind the growth, it's key to consider the dynamic. Historical data is quite insightful to see how your brand is evolving over time. The context is essential too, as it provides perspective and allows you to make strategic decisions. Lastly, to complete the story and add depth to your context, you have to consider the current climate. 

However, as the amount of data becomes overwhelming, new challenges arise — are the data bearers happy to share what they do, online and offline? How can one make sense of this much information? 

Online marketing is unthinkable without “big data” these days — the large data sets are used to discover hidden trends and patterns. Or in behavioural marketing, to analyse the customer journey from exploration to sale. Cookies played an important role too as this journey became “restorable” and trackable thanks to the cookie files dropped by various sites to the user's browser.

The Limitations

The pre-GDPR market was a primordial soup of data where next to anyone could recover a user's route without their consent. It wasn’t just every website you visited that had access to some of the browser history — it could be anyone they shared it with, knowingly or not. It took a few major data leaks to make governments realise the progression of disaster. Hence, privacy laws and browsers blocking third-party trackers. 

Tracking, the bread and butter of affiliate marketing, has undergone significant changes in both strategic approach and practice of how to use collected third-party data to run affiliate businesses. As you read this, tracking links stop dropping cookies to the affiliate network via redirect sites used to traverse from publishers to advertisers. Browsers detect attempts to record non consented cookies and prevent them. Best case scenario? Advertisers can’t trace orders back to publishers. Worst case — the users don't even get to the store in the first place.

What Browsers Do

Firefox and Safari already block tracking cookies by default, and not only has Google's Chrome browser joined the third-party-cookie-blocking fray, the search platform keeps announcing that it will not roll out alternative user-level ad identifiers to replace third-party cookies. The big question on all our minds is what marketers and advertisers will do without third-party cookies? 

Early March 2021, Google provided the long-awaited answer: the replacement for third-party cookies is first-party data. Google announced that it will not implement alternative user-level identifiers to replace third-party cookies. Surely, Google has a wealth of first-party data, or data it collects from users directly, to target ads on its own publishing platforms. This is great within the walled gardens of Google, but other publishers may feel left out.

What Does This Mean for Advertisers and Publishers? 

Today, brands have a plethora of data on each customer — purchase data, email engagement, device information, etc. Not just historical, but also real-time behavioral data regarding interaction with websites, carts, products and categories visited while browsing. Failure to track customer choices could lead to incorrect assumptions about customer behavior, and thereby cause badly targeted marketing campaigns, wasting budgets and frustrating users.

What both brands and consumers really want is a balance between personalisation and privacy. A Harris Poll survey revealed that 63 percent of consumers expect personalisation “as a standard of service.” But they also deserve to have the choice to be tracked or not, to get a personalised experience or not, and to see ads or not.

If marketers focus on making advertising more relevant and less invasive, consumers will likely see the value of it and choose to allow it in their digital lives. No one wants to see frustrated users seeing the most irrelevant ads. But even less people want to be asked every time they search for their grocery supplier next door or read their favourite online media, whether they accept cookies.

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