Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective to shine a light on what’s already obvious. In the case of ad tech, the problem is simple. The way people and tools are handling personal data is fundamentally out of sync with the new privacy-focused world. The solution, however, isn’t simple at all. It needed a team of underdogs. People whose imagination wasn’t constrained by ‘the way things are’, who could look at the industry without preconceived ideas, and who didn’t give a toss about disrupting tired old ways of doing things. And it all started with a simple question: what if we could personalise advertising without systematically collecting and exposing personal data?
The ad industry is fast approaching a crisis point. Cookies are disappearing, mobile IDs are vanishing, and consent rates are falling. This is an existential threat, not just to internet advertising but to the internet in general. If advertising fails, then business models supporting the open internet will fail, professional journalism will struggle, and the internet as we know it will be swallowed up by the walled gardens. The impact on our freedom, our choice and perhaps even our democracy could be catastrophic. At the same time, the pervasive surveillance of our every move online can no longer continue. The past decade has shown that data can be used effectively to shape people’s perception of the world, and regulation is needed to avoid multiple repeats of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. When this kind of disruption happens, incumbents find it hard to adapt. It doesn’t take a genius to see that most of the adtech market has been wasting time, scrambling to protect their bottom line while failing to adapt to a new reality. Companies that thrived in a pre-privacy world have embedded tech stacks and business models that give them limited room for maneuver and slow down innovation. Sector experts struggle to see the full picture, or simply choose to bury their heads in the sand. Accepting that the world of the past no longer exists requires some kind of radical honesty, something that comes much more easily to an outsider. When Mattia and Denys took on this challenge, they had no preconceived idea of how the tech should work. They had no legacy tech to accommodate and no business collecting, selling or otherwise monetising personal data. The only things they had were a high-level understanding of what publishers needed, a good grasp of privacy rules, very good knowledge of technology and tons of ideas. The canvas they were using to draw the building blocks of what would then become ID Ward (now Anonymised) was truly blank.
Excited about the tech they were building, Denys and Mattia set out to study the market in detail to understand how the radically new way of doing advertising they had in mind would fit. They spent months absorbing information from all corners of the advertising world, learning the jargon, diving into the tech, figuring out which tools were compliant and which were marketing a lie. They found that regulatory compliance isn’t sexy enough to sell, that companies were happy to break the law if it meant hitting revenue targets, and that leadership was hard to find. In short, they learnt that the industry was, well, a bit of a mess. Convincing a huge, chaotic, fragmented industry that they had to radically change the way they treated data was always going to be difficult, but the need for change was greater than they originally thought and time was on their side.
That’s where Anonymised comes in. At the risk of coming across far too grandiose, we have a mission to decouple personalised advertising from personal data. This is essential to make digital advertising fit for the future and protect advertising business models that support a free, independent internet. There is a direct connection between brands’ ability to speak to consumers online, the ability of journalists to report facts to the public and our right to be informed from a plurality of sources without breaking the bank. Anonymised’s job is to achieve this without all of the snooping and systematic privacy invasions that are currently rife in the advertising industry. By replacing people’s personal data with anonymous datasets across the entire digital advertising ecosystem, Anonymised is able to bring together the best of both worlds. Publishers’ bottom lines are saved: they can still monetise their audiences. Advertisers' needs are met: they can still target as effectively as usual. And consumers are protected, knowing that their personal data isn’t being sent to thousands of companies across the globe. This isn’t a zero-sum game. We can all win. But to do so we need to be open to change, aware of the potential traps and pitfalls, and prepared to all do our bit to transform ad tech for good.
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