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Post-GDPR, are data clean rooms the answer to accessing walled gardens?

August 15, 2018 | By Karen Moked, Vice President of Marketing–Digilant @KMoked

As of May 25, 2018, Google announced that DoubleClick users will be unable to rely on cookies or mobile device IDs to connect impressions, clicks and site activities from DoubleClick logs. Instead, they will be limited to Google’s own Ads Data Hub for those metrics.

For some, this means that they are satisfied to stay within the Google stack. But not every brand’s solution will be and should be limited to Google. If media buyers want to analyze their spend outside of Google’s platform and offer up any attribution, then just using Google won’t work.

“Some marketers who spend 75 percent or more of their budgets on Google will be fine just letting Google do the analytics,” says Alice Sylvester of Sequent Partners.

Google wasn’t the only one to lock down its platform. In response to the combined pressure of GDPR and the Cambridge Analytica scandals (related to handling of personal information), Facebook decided that it would shut down ad tools called “Partner Categories” powered by outside data brokers. Those tools let Facebook advertisers target ads at people based on third-party data such as their offline purchasing history.

This means advertisers will have access only to their own data, and data Facebook collects itself. If an advertiser wants to pull campaign-level insights to inform future campaigns, or use the data for the basis of an attribution model, then they are out of luck.

Introduction of Data Clean Rooms

Data clean rooms allow large inventory partners like Facebook and Google to share customer information with brands, while still maintaining strict controls. Data clean rooms were named for the completely airtight rooms where microchips and other sensitive materials get made. In this case, the rooms enable a shared environment between two or more companies that are completely secure from external access (no wifi), and where each company decides the level of visibility to their data. This eliminates  – or severely restricts – the possibility of data leakage (which is what happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica).

We and a partner combine a data set with very specific rules and controls around how each party can operate within the shared environment,” said Scott Shapiro, a product marketing director for measurement at Facebook, who noted that Facebook didn’t invent the clean-room concept.

The driving force behind the concept is to create a safe space where data can be shared and manipulated without leaving the inventory partner’s environment. Specifically for Facebook, a brand can create an audience based on first-party data  – like a list of email addresses  – and then push that list into Facebook, match it, and grab a copy which they can later combine with their data as the basis for attribution, measurement, and modeling.

How it happens in reality is that an advertiser will load a clean or wiped laptop or device that has never been connected to the Internet with that advertiser’s first party data, which in most cases is an email list. A second clean computer is loaded by Facebook or Google with impression-level and non-personally identifiable information (“PII”) campaign data.

Maybe, The Answer to Scaling The Walled Gardens?

For advertisers with reams of data and substantial programmatic advertising budgets, this is a great opportunity to scale the otherwise elusive walled gardens. Data clean rooms create a safe environment for data providers to share marketing information that brands need and crave to model future media buys and advertising strategies. If managed properly, with appropriate methods and standards, this technique would allow brands to really understand their walled-garden ad spends within the larger marketing ecosystem. For both advertisers and publishers alike, the stakes are high in the post-GDPR world of data governance, and there is  no room for unintended data sharing because consequences are severe.

Marketers have been eager to get more insights out of Facebook and other walled gardens, but it remains to be seen how aggressively brands and agencies will use data clean rooms to make the most of the spending with the largest inventory providers (e.g., Google, Facebook).

There are two prevailing views for what the future holds:
  1. Glass half-empty: These same inventory providers lack a compelling incentive to play well with others in clean rooms, beyond delivering another level of customer service in a marketplace they continue to dominate.
  2. Glass half-full: It’s been a daunting year or more for the industry category, with virtually continuous coverage related to privacy violations, bad actors influencing politics, and fraud and transparency challenges. The ‘clean room’ concept may be a half-step that the duopoly can get behind, if only as a signal of good faith to the industry.

There is also the overriding issue of what kind of manpower (likely significant) would be involved to make the clean room option a viable reality. The usefulness of data in this kind of an environment may also be somewhat limited No matter, though: The data clean room concept is one that’s getting some attention. And, considering its appeal among the dearth of options out there that seem appealing to all the affected players  – brands, agencies and inventory providers – it could be one that ends up getting traction.


About the author

Karen Moked is the Vice President of Marketing at Digilant, a programmatic media company in Boston. A veteran of the advertising and technology industries, she previously worked for Akamai and O’Reilly Media. Karen is a graduate of MBA-ESG in Paris and York University in Toronto. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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