Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Are you suffering from paralysis-inducing data bureaucracy? Here’s how to keep calm and carry on…

By Adam Chugg, Head of Big Tech Activations, the7stars

I’ve had a new idea for an Oculus game. It’s called lawsuit whack-a-mole. You play the role of a beleaguered legal officer at Meta as you face an ever-growing invasion of corporate, government and regulatory enemies.

The frequency of attack becomes so intensive in the later levels that it’s prone to give the user VR sickness. It’s a real test of endurance.

I got the idea after seeing the news of yet another slew of fines being sent Meta’s way. Some of these are the result of a series of lawsuits filed in 2018 by not-for-profit noyb. “Noyb?” you ask, “who are they?”. Well, that’s none of your business…

No, that’s really “none of your business”, an organisation set up with the express endeavour of protecting our rights, and our data, by taking down big-tech and the surveillance economy at large. Or, more specifically, those who don’t properly follow data-protection laws like GDPR. Which could be a pretty long list, considering no one seems to be able to agree on it….

But it makes sense to start with the big boys. Meta’s latest fine is the result of how they obtain consent from users to show personalised advertising based on first party data.

The case revolves around the contractual basis for Meta collecting this data. Meta argues that it’s a core component of their service and their business model and, thus, it’s fine for user opt-in to be contained within their T’s and C’s, and that this satisfies GDPR under contractual necessity.

The Irish Data Protect Commission, after initially agreeing with Meta, have now concluded that they can’t do this…

The implication is that Meta will need to offer users a separate opt-in to use first party data for ads personalisation and will need to do so pronto.

After having the stuffing knocked out of them from ATT, this would surely be another big blow in the short term for Meta.

ATT restricted the collection of cross-site data and advertiser events without express permission, on IOS devices. As a consequence, Meta estimated this would wipe $10b off their revenues as advertisers struggled to drive the cost-effective acquisition they’re used to, without the ads algorithm having these signals. That means they reduce ad spend.

The DPC ruling goes one step further and covers first-party data (on-site/property). So the signals Meta picks up from engaging with certain ads, for example, regardless of what they do afterwards (off-site/property). So that would extend Meta’s problems across android devices and compound the IOS impact. Fewer signals overall, both first-party and third-party. 

Also, by extension, such a ruling would also impact every other platform that relies on the collection of first party data using such a clause, not just Meta. Meta will appeal the decision, of course.

If all this sounds very complicated, it’s because it is…

Which leads me to the problem for advertisers and agencies:

  1. Advertisers seeing this kind of news can get more nervous about collecting their own customer data and using it to power data-driven advertising. 
  2. A blow like this for Meta would be another blow for performance advertising effectiveness across the board, in the short term…

Nervousness around first party data collection and usage is understandable, given such confusion. 

In December, even Apple was fined by France’s data protection watchdog for not properly obtaining user consent before utilising their ad identifiers. This is APPLE, the selfless torch bearers of privacy-centric big-tech and great protectors of data rights. If they can’t get it right, who can!?

The important thing for advertisers to remember, throughout all of this kerfuffle, is consent. If you’re obtaining explicit consent to collect and utilise data from customers (opt-in, not opt-out) then you’re satisfying the most fundamental tenet.

For now, your first party data and hashed data matching can help point AI in the right direction and find scale with relevant audiences through lookalikes.

And as for the possible impact to performance marketing, with the possibility of even less data available to the ad delivery system?

The good news for Meta et al, and the businesses that have learnt to rely on them for advertising, is that they are in the best possible position to engineer their way out of diminishing data collection through massive investments in AI. You might have also heard about AI in the news recently…

This is already happening, and part of the recovery process from ATT.

The likes of Meta’s advantage+ campaigns are designed to deliver the best ad targeting with fewer signals. Advertisers need to be testing these early and learning how to leverage them to maximise performance.

So overall, the message is keep calm and carry on:

  1. Don’t divert from your own data maturity path. Keep focusing on the collection and organisation of your consented first party data to make it usable. Some sensationalist headlines might suggest first party data is now off limits by implication of Meta’s case – don’t forget to read the details.
  2. Keep testing and learning in your key channels and leaning into native AI solutions, as they develop – this makes you more resilient to future changes in the system. Resistance is futile! As we saw with ATT, those advertisers not following best practice were those hurt the most.
  3. Measurement triangulation is the key to developing trust in AI solutions. Learn more about the value of these campaigns by validating attribution with lift studies, geo-experiments, and Marketing Mix Modelling.

It’s clear that regulation like GDPR needs to be amended and/or simplified. Or, even changed altogether. No one can argue that it has made the internet far worse for everyone since its inception. User experience has been compromised and advertisers have been wrapped in paralysis inducing data bureaucracy. Understanding the nuance is important to not lose confidence. That remains true if the landscape shifts and you need to test new strategies and solutions quickly or remain resolute in your current path.