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Privacy, Targeting and Effective Marketing: A Silverback Round Table

Privacy may be the hottest topic in marketing right now.

  • Highlights from Apple’s annual WWDC event featured new privacy options, “including the ability to allow third-party apps to gather location information only once,” The Washington Post reported, and blocking “the ability for third parties to track iPhone users’ WiFi and Bluetooth signals.”
  • Facebook released a memo to businesses about a new tool that allows users to manage off-Facebook activity. It's “designed to give people more transparency and control over the data other apps and websites share with us,” the company noted.
  • California is set to roll out its Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2020, “a sweeping set of laws to control the collection, storage and sale of California residents’ data,” explains Marketing Land.

Where do all of these moves leave digital marketers? How soon will these changes affect the work we’ve done in search and social media for the past decade (or longer)? What will targeting look like in cookie-less world?

We sat down with three of Silverback Strategies’ top ad strategists — Louis Belpaire, director, paid media and analytics; Andrew Fuchs, associate director, paid media and analytics; and Matt Weltz, senior paid media manager (team lead) — to consider what the coming weeks and months could mean for performance marketers.

The Silverback Privacy Round Table

Privacy is a huge issue right now — but why now? Why is this becoming a hot topic in this particular moment?

Matt Weltz: The first thing I think of is Cambridge Analytica. I think people were always aware of privacy as an issue, but I think that kind of dramatic breach brought privacy into a national conversation.


People realized, hey, this company, or these companies, really have an insane amount of information about me. And there's been lots of little slip-ups, but I think that specific instance just brought data privacy into a national conversation.

Andrew Fuchs: I agree. I think all platforms have felt the effects, even though Facebook is specific to that particular case. I think the platforms are all starting to be held to the same standards as people realize how data can be used to target them. They just didn't necessarily know about it.

Now you see the platforms scrambling to make it more simple to shed your data. They're getting out in front of it because they see the government getting involved.

Louis Belpaire: I feel like that’s when we, in America, started feeling the public pressure as advertisers. I think that in a couple of years, not to get ahead of that conversation, that's going to be the norm, not the exception. 

There's already been a few industry-specific ad targeting cases about employment, or real estate, and some advertisers got caught in the middle of it.

One thing I would add is that as AI takes a larger role in advertising technology — where the advertiser doesn't really know why he's getting in front of one particular person —  there's going to be this larger conversation around these DSP black boxes, and not understanding why certain people are being targeted.

This could potentially lead to privacy issues because they're just creating models, capturing huge amounts of data, and there's not necessarily any control into what criteria are used to make the decision whether someone is selected to see an ad or not.

So, as the end-user, you don't know why you're seeing that ad. It's the machine that decided for you.

Matt Weltz: And people start to feel freaked out, to a certain extent.

Andrew Fuchs: When people are sensitive about something they don't really understand it, they may assume the worst. Ad relevance can be positive, too.

I think what's going to happen over time is that ads are going to become less relevant. There’s going to be a lot more inferring and AI having to — not guess, but the targeting won't be as concrete.


Matt Weltz: And maybe do more prospecting. On the Facebook side of things, we might start to feel that in the next couple of weeks as the new off-Facebook features roll out.

Facebook is giving users “transparency and control” and “showing people how advertisers use our tools.” Facebook also notes “this feature may impact targeting” because when someone disconnects their off-Facebook activity, their targeting data is lost. What’s all this mean?


Louis Belpaire: It's basically going to be a simplified way to delete your history, particularly the history tied to off-Facebook activity. Sites that have Facebook Pixels, or apps that have Facebook Pixels, even when you’ve been cookied by those sites or apps, Facebook won't allow advertisers to use that data.

By opting out through this new feature, you would no longer be eligible to see ads from those brands simply because you visit their site or app. You can clear your history retroactively, and also physically opt out for the future , too.

Andrew Fuchs: It's going to hurt our ability to bring people back to a site they've visited. This new feature is going to be at the top of everyone's Facebook feed in the next couple of weeks. 

It's going to be very simple. If you want to opt out of this now, only in the past, or future, or both.

Do you see a world with cookie-less tracking?

Louis Belpaire: Well, there is the Advertising ID Consortium, which is a version of a plan to create an ID standard, and it seems like they’re running into two issues: first, it’s not working in walled gardens like Facebook or Google. You can’t tie that ID to a specific person.

Second, I think getting the private sector to agree to an ID standard is a huge challenge. They’ll never agree to the same standard. So the Advertising ID initiative, that's kind of saying, "Let’s find a way for all parties of the ad ecosystem to use the same types of people identifiers."



Andrew Fuchs: Google has mentioned that they are going to have to start relying a lot more on the actual ad placement. To rely, basically, on what people show interest in — using the context of all of the people who are not opted out, who have been to a website to then infer things about other people who are coming to that specific site.

Matt Weltz: I think these algorithms are getting smarter. So I think, you know, next year or two we might see a step back as we lose a lot of the tracking that we've become accustomed to. I think long-term a lot of those gaps will be filled in with machine learning. And I think that they can probably get better at inferring that.

Louis Belpaire: And to your point, that's already the case. Because of the Safari tracking prevention update, Google has started inferring conversion data through statistical modeling. They'll estimate how many conversions you got based on what they already know about your customer journey and the likelihood to convert.

Andrew Fuchs: You can't ever take relevance away completely. If there are ways to work around that, then it's going to be the environment we live in.

As we see these changes come into place, what are some of the ramifications that we're going to see on the marketing side? What are you guys are preparing for?

Andrew Fuchs: On the Facebook side, we don't know what percentage of people are going to opt out, so our marketing list could naturally decrease in size by half a percent, maybe 5%, 10%. I really don't know what the effects will be.

Nonetheless, I think we'll have more trouble bringing people back to a site based on our Facebook pixel. I think that just means we have to rely more on the other technology that's increasingly getting better. It forces us to think in a growth mindset, rather than just reengaging the same.

Matt Weltz: One thing I think that's worth mentioning, something that I've been thinking about, is that we've really been actively dealing with this already to a large degree.

Facebook's taken a lot of the targeting methods that used to be available off the site, I don't know the exact percentage, but there's a significant number of options that we used to be able to use that we're no longer able to. I think it all comes back to what Andrew's saying — we're going to rely more on these machine learning-based audiences and having our pixels in place just because more crucial targeting will be more limited, both in scale and availability.

Louis Belpaire: Maybe in the short term we’ll see a bit of a reduction in reach. But at least this is based on direct user inputs, which is what government leaders were pushing for in California with their new law. It's probably better to go for that option.

Even if there's loss in the short term, then maybe use some other black-box DSP that's flying under the radar right now will be shut down six months from now because they're not factoring in user opt-ins or opt-outs. It's kind of almost like a correction towards health.



Do you think some of these moves that you see Google, Facebook, Apple making now are an attempt to get in front of legislative action — self-policing to actually avoid actual policing?

Matt Weltz: You see what Facebook is doing. The company aligns themselves in a way that shows they care. I mean, I'm not saying they don't, but they would tell you that they would care a lot about privacy and that user privacy is really important.

And it does seem like it’s becoming more of the company culture. Whether that's 100% reactionary, you can decide for yourself. I think they realized that there is a real threat to them even if they don't change.

So yes,  I think that part of it is certainly getting ahead of the law. But part of it is also, like, they know it's only a matter of time, so they'd rather do it on their own terms and look like they're the ones being proactive.

Louis Belpaire: I think in the nightmare scenario is if every state starts legislation on online privacy and there are different rules every time you cross a state border. It's going to be such a mess for advertisers. That's the worst-case scenario. But I could see some kind of legislation at the federal level, too.

From our perspective, as an agency, the system is changing and we have to be a part of it. We're already using the tools that are based on user opt-ins and user inputs. I think we're in a better position in the long term.

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