Soapbox: Can adtech sourced data be used in the fight against COVID-19?

As social distancing slowly helps flatten the curve, governments are considering how to relax shelter-at-home orders and reopen businesses without triggering a second wave of pandemic.

While there seems to be a consensus that large scale testing and contact tracing are crucial to safely reopening the economy, how to do it is an entirely different issue.

Apple and Google stepped up to the plate with a privacy-friendly app that will track proximity using Bluetooth protocol. The downside is that requires the population to voluntarily download the app. Looking for clues as to the future of such download doesn’t seem promising. In Singapore, where the population tends to follow government orders and privacy is less of an issue, less than 25% downloaded such an app within a month after it was introduced. 

What do you think the population of the land of the free and home of the brave will do? And what about the 10.5M-12M estimated undocumented immigrants

As in many cases where a complex problem is involved, typically more than one solution is required to provide a satisfactory result. 

The adtech industry has been working for 20 years on tracking devices on a large scale while preserving the population privacy and providing opt-out options.

Said differently, our industry experience so far is that opt-in regime doesn’t offer scale. Not even when incentives are offered. Who remembers NetZero, the free ISP? Using the same analogy, opting-in to download an app, probably won’t be adopted by most of the population.

Once again, looking at the adtech industry, devices of the vast majority of the population are targeted with ads based on tracked behavior while privacy is maintained by avoiding the collection of information directly identifying individuals and provision of opt-out options.

Moreover, data from the offline world where PII is the connecting tissue is tied to online devices in a process called onboarding, where the offline data once tied to identified individuals is assigned to a person’s online devices, where the devices do not have data identifying that person.

If the entire population could be targeted with online ads using offline data originally tied to PII while preserving their privacy and providing them with opt-out options, maybe through innovation and industry efforts such data could somehow be used to provide contact tracing in a privacy-friendly manner? 

What are you? Optimistic or pessimistic? How do you think things will evolve?

Stay safe! 

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Roy’s career is characterized by repeatedly innovating and building revolutionary solutions and companies. He began his career in the Israeli intelligence, where he received a distinguished prize for an R&D project. Roy went on to found his company AlmondNet and built it into a recognized leader and pioneer of online behavioral, targeted advertising and identity resolution solutions. Its two subsidiaries Datonics and Intent IQ are also category leaders and were first-to-market. Datonics is an online data collection and distribution market leader. Intent IQ is an identity resolution provider across the different screens (computer/mobile/TV). Being among the first to recognize that online advertising had to be buffered by consumer consent, Roy developed several privacy-friendly solutions, including developing and evangelizing “Enhanced Notice,” which was adopted as the standard privacy solution by the NAI and the rest of the online advertising industry. Roy’s track record further includes more than 120 granted patents that are licensed by some of the biggest companies in the online advertising sector. Roy holds an MBA and an M.Sc. in Electronic Engineering, and he is an IEEE senior member.

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