Who Owns the Data?

I hear this question a lot, about a variety of aspects to online marketing and advertising. Online advertising is all about data. The future of display advertising online and more precisely real time bidding relies exclusively on data. Data collected on user behaviour and preferences in various environments.

The industry has been collecting data on users since the cookie was initially introduced online in 1994. We’ve collected data for a number of different reasons in the past. Some information might have only been relevant for the duration of a visit, a day, a week or over much longer periods. In recent years we’ve started tagging / dropping cookies a lot more as we’ve developed behavioral targeting and retargeting.

The short answer is whoever decides to collect any piece of data, owns it. Here are a few examples.

  • Auto-personalisation of content: A publisher collects data from its users when they declare they prefer a type of content over another. On subsequent visits the publisher will adapt the home page or section to showcase to that particular user his or her preferred content predominantly. Think of Amazon and how when you’ve consulted a certain number of books you’re considering buying suddenly show up on the home page as suggestions next time to visit – or similar books to those you’ve liked. It’s the publisher’s way of getting on your good side, being more accommodating so you’ll become more loyal in turn. Here the publisher owns the data. He doesn’t need a user’s permission to use that data so long as he doesn’t cross the line into personally identifiable data.
    • This also applies to any company or advertiser doing so on their own website. They wouldn’t need in this particular case to comply with the OBA program.
  • Behavioral targeting: Another publisher collects data on regularly consulted content but this time it’s to target relevant client ads to that user based on his or her preferences. Again here the publisher owns the data. He decided to collect it and uses it in his own environment – again so long as it is not personally identifiable. The advertiser who uses this data, or the ad agency mandated to manage the advertiser’s campaign don’t own this data – they’re renting access to it, the same way direct mail marketing allow for mailing list rentals.
    • This coming summer Canada’s Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) self-regulatory framework will come into effect – are you in the know?
  • Behavioral targeting 2nd example: An ad agency collects data on user’s who’ve been exposed to an ad in a particular environment, or who have behaved in a particular way with a campaign’s creative materials. This ad campaign would have been mandated by an advertiser, and presumably would have been run on a number of publishers. Who owns that data? Although the user was intercepted on a publisher’s property, the effort of tagging that person which spreads more than more publisher network and cataloging the info that’s relevant to the advertiser is being done by the agency.  But does the agency own it or does their client?
    • This is where it starts to depend. If the request was made by the client, then the data will only be used for them, they own the data.
    • If however the agency collected the data on their own to serve a number of their clients, not necessarily on their client’s request, then it is their data.
    • In either case, both will need to participate in Canada’s OBA self-regulation program should they decide to target future campaigns based on this collected data.
    • A case can also be made that the agency should disclose this practice to the publisher from whom they are buying ad space out of transparency – the same was they need to be transparent with users when they target them through behavioral means.
  • Retargeting: A company (advertising in our usual lingo) collects data from users on their own site for use in re-targeting of ads through a campaign they are running via their ad agency on a multitude of publisher websites. The company / advertiser owns the data in this case because A- it was collected on their site and B- they are the ones intending use of the data.
    • In this case, the company will need to participate in Canada’s OBA self-regulation program.
  • Campaign reporting: An ad agency collects performance data (ad impressions, clicks, viewthroughs, ROI, acquisition…) up and down a campaign to report to their advertiser client how their campaign did. Who owns this data; the ad agency or the advertiser?  In this case it’s the advertiser as the sole purpose of this data was paid for by the advertiser even if the agency did all the leg work.
    • In this case, the company will need to participate in Canada’s OBA self-regulation program which only applies to any kind of online behavioral ad targeting, not data collection.
  • Social media: A company wants to know how many people are consulting their social media presence, interacting with them, mentioning them… The data is automatically collected by each social network – they own the activity on their sites. However, if an advertiser can extract the data relevant to their Facebook page, YouTube channel or other, then they have a right to that data as well. Oftentimes social networks will make this data available in some form or other.
    • As this is for “reporting” Canada’s OBA self-regulation program would not apply.

Do you have an opinion on this? Please share it!

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