“If you started from scratch today, you just wouldn’t build things that way”

J@vier M@rceli

Covatic Chief Product Officer Dan Pike on future-proof ad solutions and why privacy-first targeting is like an electric car.

Mobile Marketing: You began with a focus on helping broadcasters understand their mobile audiences better, and now you are positioning your privacy-first audience segmentation product A-Type as a solution to the far broader challenge of post-cookie, post-ATT targeting. How have we got here?

Dan Pike: It’s a timing thing, really. At Covatic, our products have always placed privacy first – from inception we have wholeheartedly embraced the privacy challenge. You could say it’s in our DNA. And digital advertising is now gripping that challenge too. Our approach, our philosophy of placing user privacy first is now enormously valuable to publishers and advertisers. And this value will continue to grow as the industry transforms itself from a model that incentivises the hoarding and trading of personal data to one that respects and protects personal privacy.

MM: Your solution uses on-device processing – what problems does that specifically solve for the digital ad business?

DP: On-device is the best way to ensure you’ve got a future-proof ad solution that delivers highly relevant ads while protecting user privacy. It means that all the data-processing ‘smart stuff’ lives on the customer’s own kit – such as their phone – and so does all their data. It never needs to leave. If you design your approach well, you don’t need to share an ID, you don’t need users to log in and you never need to expose anything linked to an individual. The only linking is of aggregated groups of users to their relevant audience segments.

This is great for publishers because they can be confident that the solution is GDPR-, CCPA- and Apple ATT-safe. It is great for advertisers because they can be reassured that audience insights aren’t misattributed. And it is great for consumers because information linked to them isn’t bought, sold and shared over the internet. They can exercise greater control over their data because it sits with them on their device.

Compare that to the traditional model of digital advertising, which links a profile of an individual’s online activities to personal identifiers and uses that to place relevant adverts in front of the individual associated with the ID. In that model, all the smart stuff happens in various third-party servers and data stores. Data linked to individuals is passed around the ecosystem and those individuals have little visibility or control over any of it. If you started from scratch today, you just wouldn’t – perhaps couldn’t – build things that way.

MM: Have you been encouraged by responses to A-Type in the advertising and ad-tech worlds?

DP: Very much so. Publishers have been particularly receptive. Our solution gives them more control over their ad solution and ensures it is GDPR-, CCPA- and Apple ATT-safe. We can also provide them with compelling insights and analytics to support direct ad sales and to inform editorial decision making.

Nonetheless, it is fair to say that some in the ad-tech world have found the paradigm shift of on-device difficult to come to terms with. Ours is a new and novel approach which challenges some big incumbents. It could make some parts of the value chain redundant.

There are some that are seeking to adapt their current practices to work around Apple’s ATT policies, for example. But I am seeing a growing consensus that these workarounds are not sustainable. Apple, Google, regulators and public sentiment are forcing certain doors closed, and the loopholes that many legacy solutions rely upon are being closed too, one by one. The workarounds can also get so complicated that no one person can fully understand how they work end-to-end. Complexity is never a great thing, in my experience, and it can certainly be an enemy to transparency.

MM: Are you satisfied that none of the privacy problems of today’s tracking-based digital marketing can be levelled at your solution, given the depth of the user insights you provide?

DP: Absolutely. Our solution never shares personally identifiable information. What I am most proud of is this: we have proved that you can create a product with a better privacy profile but which also segments audiences and monetises them just as well as, if not better than, systems that track individuals and their every interaction on the internet.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but this is such an important statement to be able to make. The industry no longer needs to trade efficacy for ethics. It’s like the moment when electric cars went from a conscientious but constrained environmental choice to being demonstrably superior to the internal combustion engine. Solutions like A-Type give the industry a positive way forward and mean it can embrace the future, rather than fear, deny or resist it.

MM: The digital ad business is in something of a race against time. What is the roadmap to broad adoption of a technology like yours, and do you see other complementary solutions playing an important part?

DP: I don’t think there will or should ever be a one-size-fits-all solution and, no doubt, there will be various highly successful solutions out there in the years to come. Each will play a role in meeting the full array of requirements that exist in the market. For example, our solution doesn’t require users to log in so it is great for those that place a premium on reach. For others, they may seek to place more emphasis on first-party data or contextual solutions. And, of course, it may be possible for these to be combined, just as long as privacy is never compromised.

In terms of it being a race against time, one of our clients – a major broadcaster – managed to integrate our SDK in their app in just under an hour. It really is that simple. So, if time is of the essence and the race is on, you can tell your development team they’ve got a target time of 55 minutes to beat!

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