Audience targeting has come a long way, baby. In the last 5 years, we've evolved from simple intra-site and intra-network retargeting to advanced, algorithmically-driven audience targeting across the web with multi-variant data sources. Customized segmentation is available across an ever-growing list of data suppliers, and audiences can be analyzed & targeted based on buying history, content engagement, offline data sources, social media engagement, etc. It's a Chinese-menu of demography, psychography, and implied attributes that is simultaneously exciting and dangerous.
Much of the dialogue around data today is focused around appropriate best practices; providing clear disclosure of data utilization, easy opt-out paths, consumer awareness campaigns, and more. The consumer will be empowered with greater and greater controls to determine what data is used by whom. If we operate from the principle that in the near future a détente will be reached between digital marketing professionals and consumers (including data privacy lobbyists), there will still be a great unanswered question: who owns the data?
The most clear cut scenario is a direct-to-publisher inventory buy from a single, direct advertiser. Both sides own their respective campaign data. But clearly from there the situation becomes more complicated. If an agency buys inventory from a site for a single advertiser, who owns the data - the publisher, the agency, or the actual client? If the agency is truly acting as an agent for the client, then all of the data for that client should be available to the advertiser. Now add in a multi-office agency holding company funneling all data into a single data warehouse. Clients who have never even worked with the publisher may now be able to access data from that site because of the centralized data collection tools of the agency. That data will include pricing data in addition to audience data - potentially impacting a publisher's ability to maintain elevated prices from agency to agency. It also means the underlying value of the data becomes exposed to every agency in the holding company's portfolio.
Now add the next few layers: ad networks & exchanges. Often inventory arbitrages are occurring between networks & exchanges to overcome shortfalls in reach. But at each node in the chain, the data value is passed along and exposed to more players. When you then start to include RTB platforms, you add yet another layer of complexity to the issue. Clearly these relationships are governed by the corresponding set of terms & conditions, but each node presents a fresh stop/start in the chain of data sharing, and this in turn limits both end buyer and end seller in policing data utilization.
Independent data exchanges are seemingly the most appropriate path for management of this data value. By aggregating data sources from networks and sites alike, they overcome the ability for an agency to be able to identify a specific publisher's audience if working with an ad network. By selling to everybody, they also allow ALL data providers to earn from the true market value of their data. The more liquidity existing in data demand, the greater the likelihood is that a publishers data - no matter how niche they may be - will be valued at true market rates.
One of the challenges that the industry faces is the one way street that DSP's create - they take data out but don't put it back in as they'll likely be controlling the supply chain. To overcome that, data exchanges should also push for DSP's to participate in providing data value by putting some data back into the exchange. DSP's turn buyers into sellers, and as they drop their own cookies and build their own segments, they could begin to make this data available for appending for other buyers. If it's truly anonymous, the DSP should have no problem in extracting even more value out of their buys through creating this alternate revenue path. In that scenario, they provide value back to the publishers creating data - allowing publishers to buy back this data value and use it on their own campaigns.
There is no clear answer to this question of data ownership and the only consistent learning I've found is that everybody has a passionate stance on the issue. As an industry, we need to continue to strive to protect data value for everybody in the food chain, starting with the customer, ending with the advertiser, and giving every point in between their proper due.
This is going to be fun....