Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Hamish Brocklebank

Earning money from your data

Data privacy and ownership has been the talk of the town for the last few years. We’ve had GDPR and CCPA implemented. We’ve seen the Safari and Firefox browsers get rid of third-party cookies, with Chrome to follow in a few years. And, just a few months ago, we witnessed Apple make changes to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). Regulations and technology updates are changing the way personal data is obtained and managed – and the public are more aware about what value their data holds.

Earlier this year, with this idea of ‘value’ in mind, market research firm YouGov decided to launch a cross-device tracker and data marketplace called ‘YouGov Safe’. The offering aims to provide media owners, brands, and agencies with a transparent view of consumers’ online behaviours, while paying customers for sharing their data.

“It’s a tool that we’ve built that allows users to basically get control of and get paid for data that they have,” says Hamish Brocklebank, Head of YouGov Safe. “We can derive useful insights from it. And we have a marketplace to sell that data to third parties in a consent-driven manner, as opposed to the existing setup, where you go to third-party data brokers who get all their data in slightly shady ways. The people contributing their data are often completely unaware and certainly aren’t seeing any value out of it.”

Safe’s panellists get paid when they first connect to the product, every time they update their profiles, and when they consent to being part of “specific client projects”.

“We have different cadence for different data sources. So, for the streaming services, you can update it weekly and get paid. But you get paid the most when you first connect, because it gives you a history, and is the most valuable to us,” explains Brocklebank.

“Additionally, if there are specific client projects, where a company wants your specific data in a non-anonymised format, and you opt in, you get paid an additional amount by that company for however long that company wants to use that data. Those companies have to specify exactly how long they are going to use that data for.”

Powering the future of data

YouGov feels they can create value from the data due to the strength of its core product, which has seen people surveyed about everything from their politics through to their favourite shows. The data acquired by YouGov’s market research arm can be appended to the data obtained by Safe. For example, the firm is able to see what people, who vote for a particular party or like a certain type of food, like to watch on Netflix.

Currently, the data is being used by production companies to determine the popularity of certain shows, and by streaming platforms to gain insights into the types of content people are consuming on rival platforms.

When it comes to the world of video-on-demand, “there’s this crazy ecosystem of partners”, according to Brocklebank. Most of the ‘original’ shows on platforms like Netflix and Amazon have been made by other production companies and acquired by the streaming platform. As such, production companies don’t have much of an insight into who’s watching their content.

“A lot of the time they’re using our data to understand things like how many people are actually watching season one, so they can see the value of a second season. But also, to see who those people are because, if it’s a different demographic to what you anticipated, you might want to change the content to appeal to them more. Then there’s people who are just trying to understand market trends, so they can buy and develop the right IP,” says Brocklebank.

“We can also see what people who watch a certain show on Netflix, for instance, are watching on other platforms. Streaming platforms, of course, know what shows people are watching on their own platforms, but it’s really useful to see what shows people are also watching on other platforms, in order to drive your content acquisition and buying strategy.”

Also, the post-cookie world, YouGov Safe’s data has the potential to make up for some of the reduction in data available to advertisers.

“We are able to, admittedly at a smaller scale, get richer data than you can get out of cookies. All of the ways that you can target people with cookies, you can do with YouGov, but at a much more granular level. You can do A/B testing on your marketing at a much deeper level than you currently can with cookies,” notes Brocklebank.

“We are in the process of building a way to fully address the post-third-party cookie world. We are growing our audience by a couple of orders of magnitude, so that we can have the data to impute variables about people to reach a broader audience. We have a sample set of hundreds of thousands of people who we know an awful lot about, and we can use that to impute what the likely variables are about people who aren’t in our database.”

Safety first

In order to keep the data of its users safe, YouGov operates what Brocklebank calls a “double consent mechanism”.

When people agree to share their data, they agree to share that data in a fully anonymised manner. YouGov only hands out “aggregate insights” to third parties, so that data cannot be used to identify and directly target individuals.

The only time data is shared directly with third parties is during the aforementioned “specific client projects”, where small cohorts of panellists are asked for. In these instances, a second consent is required from the individual. YouGov informs them that “Company A would like to do X, Y, and Z with their data, and only the members who consented again have their data shared”, Brocklebank explains.

Other measures taken by YouGov to protect data include strict contractual agreements with clients and providing the user to request the deletion of their data. In the latter case, third parties have 30 days to delete that data.

Going forward, YouGov intends to focus on growing its panels – which Brocklebank thinks will be “relatively straightforward” due to the firm’s 21 years’ experience in doing just that.

YouGov is also currently looking to build data analysis tools. An example of such a tool being a cross-platform media recommender to offer up better TV recommendations.

“We can use our data to provide recommendations in a different way. It’s about trying to broaden the pool of the types of people who will share their data. We know that some of them just do it for the money. Some of them do it because they believe in us. Some of them do it because it’s an easy, nice thing to do. Some people do it because they want to see insights about themselves. And then there’s some people who will never do it,” concludes Brocklebank.