“Publishers don’t really have their arms around their audiences in the way they used to,” said Joe Titlebaum. “The people who understand audiences the best are the ad tech folks.”
Many publishers are uncomfortable with that, which presents a market opportunity. Titlebaum is chief legal and privacy officer for Mezzobit, a New York City-based start-up that’s focused on helping online publishers both understand their audience and prevent data leakage that might present privacy issues or simply make their readers uncomfortable.
But what’s a “privacy issue”? What makes readers uncomfortable? To help answer those questions and begin to create some standards around how publishers control their readers’ data, Mezzobit also independently launched DataNeutrality, a nonprofit organization headed by privacy pros and publishing veterans that will examine these issues, raise awareness in the publishing industry about the need for transparency and respect for privacy and serve as the privacy and data governance auditor for Mezzobit.
DataNeutrality “is sort of privacy plus,” said Executive Director Sharon Christiansen Geddes, CIPP/G, CIPP/IT, a member of the IAPP’s Education Advisory Board. “When most of us think about privacy, we think about PII and we flounder with what we do with other types of data that aren’t necessarily PII.” Of course, she notes, plenty of information might not technically be PII according to U.S. regulations but certainly is considered awfully personal by those people with whom it’s associated.
If you run a medical publication, are the pages that a reader looked at PII? No, but if they all involve depression, that might indicate someone is struggling with the disease. Is it okay to sell that information? If you decide it’s not, are you sure that information isn’t being collected by one of your ad network partners? Will your readers freak out, and blame your publication, when they’re then served an ad for antidepression medication?
“We’re seeing that maybe we need to take a look at that,” said Geddes.
Mezzobit offers a technical solution, offering a tag-management dashboard the company says will allow publishers to much more closely watch where data is traveling outward from their websites.
“It’s easier to see who you’re sharing data with,” said Titlebaum. “Our thought was to create a technology that gets in the middle of this data traffic, so that you enable publishers to really control it. With our dashboard playing air traffic control, then you can shut people off. Without it, it’s really difficult.”
And DataNeutrality, with board members like IAPP board member and GMAC CPO Allen Brandt, CIPP/US, CIPP/E, CIPM, and Lisa Grant, CIPP/US, founder of SecurPrivacy.org, will make sure Mezzobit collects and handles data appropriately, itself.
Will DataNeutrality really create standards that are accepted over the standards created by organizations like the IAB and the DAA? “One of the things that sets us apart is that we’re focused on a niche and therefore trying to do it exceedingly well,” said Geddes, “whereas some of the larger organizations are focused on lots of other things and it’s harder to nail things down.