By Nick Pinks, CEO, Covatic
You could be forgiven for not doing a double take at the headline “Google planning to tackle privacy” and immediately checking the date at the top of the news article. Is this really the news in 2021? If you had dropped that story into a newspaper in 2019 or even 2015, it wouldn’t have been out of place. The details may be different but it beggars belief that we are still talking about ‘plans’ to tackle privacy issues in online advertising at a time when the technology, the understanding and the legislation around this issue has moved on countless times.
Google is planning to use AI to bundle an individual user with similar visitors in the hope that by offering this service people won’t block tracking on their device to protect their privacy. But I think that suggests a level of understanding – and emotional investment – from the consumer that simply doesn’t exist.
Without wanting to patronise anyone, I think it’s a fair assumption that your average person on the street has two strong opinions about adtech. Firstly, they are suspicious of it – of why they are served ads about something they have just been talking about in earshot of their smart speaker, of why they see ads on their phone for something they bought three weeks ago and, when ads are personalised, how on earth they know so much about me. Secondly, they have very little inclination to understand the technology.
We have all got a lot going on in our lives and while the likes of Google and Facebook may think they can win people over with talk of AI and user bundles, this is not going to make an iota of difference to the way people see them and their apparently shady dealings. The endless updates and pledges and general commitments to various privacy-driven agendas are hard enough to keep up with when you are immersed in the industry, so good luck to the general public who are just sick of continually seeing ads for products they bought three weeks ago.
I am simplifying for effect, but the real issue here is how as an industry we think we can change our reputation, and it is not through talk of trusted servers and cryptography.
At Covatic we have created a technology that addresses all the issues that consumers have around the way their data is used. We have developed software that sits inside a brand’s smartphone app and uses behavioural information to serve targeted, contextual, personalised ads to consumers. The technology uses information such as location data and battery consumption to understand where the user is and what they are doing at certain times of day, which informs the content and frequency of in-app messaging. But crucially, that information never leaves the phone.
The approach we have taken keeps all your personal data on your phone – we ensure that no personally identifiable information leaves the device and that the app owners have no way of knowing who you are, where you live, what day you go to the gym and which supermarket you favour.
Personalisation is a major factor in the levels of engagement a person has with a brand who is advertising to them, and with the vast majority of consumers saying they favour personalisation in advertising – citing generic ads as ‘annoying’ – it is a hugely important aspect of what we do.
But the key is we don’t hope that, by talking to consumers about those user segments, we can change how they perceive us. We are an ad tech company and that is all they care about.
What we can do as an industry is show through our actions that we are different. Only in changing our behaviour and remaining consistent and endlessly honest, open and transparent, will we start to slowly rebuild consumer trust. For Covatic’s part, as we introduce more and more brands to our tech offering, and they in turn begin to set in motion a strong, trusted, mutually-beneficial relationship with their consumers, we will move the conversation – and the perception – onto a less repetitive refrain.