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Whose data is it anyway?

Published Date: 1 November 2021   

Categories: Data

Two important issues have been on my desk, begging for attention of late. Both related to data privacy and collection, converging on our personal information and how it can be used, responsibly. The largest of these issues was the imminent retirement of Google Chrome’s cookies.  Second, was the introduction of POPIA as of 1 July.  

Due to its global impact, the cookie is the largest of the two while POPIA has mainly localized ramifications. However, from a South African media landscape perspective, they are equally important. Our agency has been hard at work mapping out how these impact our daily grind and what the response would be. 

The POPIA implementation announcement was a bit of a surprise, with many expecting it to be delayed, even more so with Google postponing the demise of their cookie until 2023 (get all the details on their plans here). This serves as a welcome relief because of our state of readiness as an industry. 

POPIA was first publicized in 2013 and, for the most part, digital agencies have been preparing for some years now in anticipation. The final section (114(4)) dealing with the processing and storage of personal information commenced on 1 July 2020, with a year’s grace period for compliance. Media agencies with global clients had a head start with the implementation of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), a similar privacy act that was introduced in the European Union in 2016 and enforced from May 2018.  

Judging by the volume of POPIA consent forms I’ve received in my inbox recently, not everyone was ready. 

Without sounding flippant, marketeer’s and their agency partners are not ready for the death of the cookie. The truth is that no one knows exactly what the implications or the alternatives are right now as we sift through our options. Initially well intended, cookies served a dual purpose; to help you find relevant content and save that journey for future use and secondly, for advertisers to show you ads that are meaningful to you based on your online habits.  Unfortunately, folk behind the cookie overstepped their boundaries and users’ data became a high value, frequently traded commodity – a commodity that is rightfully yours but traded without your permission with no financial benefit for you. 

To protect people from this abuse, POPIA requires you to opt-in or out, so that no-one can cash in on your personal information. Websites across the globe are starting to align by asking you to accept cookies before you access the site.  Some force you to accept or deny you access to their content, while others continue to track you anonymously if you don’t accept. Either way, you are still being tracked (see Google’s alternative to the cookie, called FLOC, as explained by Wired). 

Slowly but surely, the Wild West of personal information trading is coming to an end. Well, at minimum there is a new sheriff in town. The problem with new sheriffs is that they often create new outlaws… 

Companies are already reverting to scaremongering tactics around the loss of audience and customer data that hark back to the Y2K era. Others are looking for new ways to track you and quite frankly, if a data solution seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Be weary of false claims and fake news, this is a developing story and there are no quick fixes or final solutions. Find a trusted partner you can travel this road with. 

In the meantime, collect as much data as you can while complying with POPIA, while keeping in mind its ability to be sliced and diced when the time comes – making it useful to your business needs.   

The internet is funded, to a large extent, on the advertising model and the advertising model was based on the ability to target an exact audience based on cookie data. At a minimum, internet users will need to get used to paying for some of the content they were previously getting for free and advertisers will need to become more creative in capturing our attention online.  

Change is inevitable, but with it comes opportunity. The post cookie world will certainly be an interesting one.   

Andre Steenekamp – Director of Strategy, Mark1