Personal: Controlling our own data


By Nicholas Oliver, CEO and founder at

The sad reality is, I not only don’t own my data, I’m not even exactly sure what my personal data is. To our grandparents that would sound absolutely ridiculous, but the reality is, with everyone collecting data about us, including behavioural data, we can’t be sure what other people know about us.

Our personal data is valuable. What we like, what we shop for, our email addresses, the fact that we’re about to start a family or buy a car; it all has value to marketers who can use all this information to present us with targeted advertising. Although it sounds like a good strategy in theory, it’s short of perfect. Well short, actually.

Advertising stalking

Ever had shoes you’ve already bought (or didn’t want to buy, just looked at,) following you around the internet for days on end, on completely unrelated sites? Probably everyone who does any internet shopping has experienced this anxiety-inducing feeling of being stalked by a pair of shoes. I’ve certainly been made to feel uncomfortable on countless occasions because, after all, a site about mountain climbing shouldn’t know about my love for colourful sneakers. And with ads now ripe on mobile, those shoes can follow you literally everywhere.

Unfortunately, this far from perfect targeting doesn’t discourage anyone from collecting our data. Being able to form comprehensive profiles about their users can be a real goldmine for websites, who can later use it to sell advertising space, at a premium. A good example is Facebook; it not only holds our name, email address and educational history, but also builds a profile of us based on every single comment and “like” that we leave behind. When you come to think of it, it’s a hefty amount of data.

And, after all, Facebook’s valuations reach a staggering $100 billion, while its book value is a mere $7 billion. You can guess where the difference comes from; the value of the data it holds doesn’t go on a balance sheet.

Block those ads

But people are beginning to say no to shoes following them around the internet, and they’re doing it in an all or nothing way. You might be guessing what I’m talking about here; ad blocking. Ad blocking is on the rise, and has been for some time now. With over 20% of UK adults using an ad blocker on a regular basis, publishers and advertisers are slowly beginning to realise they may have just overstepped with their pop-ups and self-playing videos. But it’s not just the annoyance that’s causing people to wipe their screens free of ads; 50% of people pointed to the misuse their date in order to personalise ads as the reason for downloading an ad blocker [Adobe/PageFair 2015].

You could call ad blocking “a modern-day protection racket”, as culture secretary John Whittingdale has done, and label users as selfish, demanding content without giving publishers anything in return. But the truth is, they are simply screaming ‘Why aren’t we in control of our own data?!”.

When you start thinking about it this way, ad blocking seems far less malicious. In the current situation, everyone is losing. Brands lose customer trust because they’re associated with annoying advertising, as well as disclosing customer data, publishers are losing advertising money because ads placed on their sites are not displayed, advertisers are losing one of their most valuable platforms, and users lose control of their data and therefore their privacy.

If publishers and advertisers don’t start thinking straight, they’ll soon be mourning their past earnings. Some will be mourning their jobs. The only way out of this situation is to hand the control back to the consumers. For anything to change, they need to be able to decide what information they do and don’t want to share with brands. This way, brands will regain their trust, and consumers will once again feel safe online. And advertisers will be able to go back to what they’re meant to be doing best; creating ads that customers want to see. is a marketplace that puts consumers back in control by allowing them to dynamically license their data and attention to brands.


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