DP 2016 Update: Nicholas Oliver "Who's data is it?" | DP 2016 Update: Nicholas Oliver "Who's data is it?" | DMA

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DP 2016 Update: Nicholas Oliver "Who's data is it?"


That's the question posed by young entrepreneur Nicholas Oliver at DP 2016 Update, and he has an answer fit for the future and for the GDPR

Oliver has been a bright light in marketing and advertising, rising to the post of 'Global Creative Technical Director | Innovation, Emerging Technology & Brand Partnerships' at Team Detroit (now Blue Hive), the WPP agency set up for Ford Motors.

He's very young, just hitting his third decade, and wears clothes are from the Zuckerberg school of fashion - jeans and unbranded t-shirt that could be from Gap or equally from Gucci.

Oliver's idea is simple - give consumers back control over their data. His startup, people.io, allows you to licence - not give - your data to companies so they can then contact you with relevant messages.

He also has strong opinions about the way brands and agencies use consumer data.

Who owns consumer data?

"I’m not a lawyer, so a lot of what I say is conceptual or philosophical. I will reference GDPR, but nobody really knows how it will be implemented," he says by way of an introduction.

As a background to his business he said, "One of the challenges I gave myself, that when I decided to do my own thing, was that I didn’t want anyone to tell me that I didn’t know my business," he says, citing former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport John Whittingdate, who said, that consumers are the pirates by blocking the ads.

To counter Whittingdale's assertion, he cites computing philosopher Jaron Lenier, who said, "Facebook says privacy is theft because they’re selling your lack of privacy to the advertisers who might show up one day."

"Consumers call it personal data," says Oliver.

"There is a whole industry built up around stealing data. Companies can sell and perpetuate this idea that companies have a right to own a person’s data.

"That is not correct," he says.

Oliver has research on his side. According to Tune, who follow ad blocking installs, 55% of US and UK smartphone users say advertisers should not be collecting any data at all.

"Look across the wider digital ecosystem, look at the amount of data collection going on. There are 84 tracking technologies at the Daily Mail. This is why people are getting pissed off. It’s not things coming though the post, where people would have some awareness about how data was collected," he says.

"Like Doc Searls said, 'I didn’t dislike Amazon until it started stalking me across the web. With things I have already bought'. All that data shared for retargeting, following people around. This is why adblocking went through the roof."

He added that PageFair found that half of those who chose adblocking software did so because of misuse of personal data.

Unified view

Oliver said that brands are attempting to emulate what Google and Facebook offer with their ad 'stacks', which is a unified customer view or profile.

He said, "You feel you have to have a unified view as well. To do that you have to connect systems together. Is that any different to what Edward Snowden revealed? Little to nothing," he said.

He compared this to the PPI misselling scandal. "Put your consumer hat on - think about the impact for the consumer. Look back 10 years or so to PPI scandal.

"In 1998 people were unhappy about products missold. Then the e-directive was first touchpoint to get a resolution. Then fines. These will run to £32 billion by 2018?

"Fines - as more people become aware, they will take action," he says, and says he approves of the DMA's approach, which is to put the customer first. "Because the direct marketing side is cleaner and the consumer has more control, you get better quality engagement," he says.

He explains the case of Max Schrems, who took Facebook to the EU and won, toppling the Safe Harbour data deal in the process.

"People more aware of whole ecosystem. Data is what powers the front end. 64% adults are not happy with the way data is collected. 82% say they should be able to trade their data," he says.


He says that data is not just the information that consumers enter, but also the identifiers for people, which also now count as personal data.

He looked at first, second and third party data:

  1. "First - your data. Wrong. It’s not your data. It’s my data. Say a selfie of yourself - you own that data. Why would a brand own that? A photographer took it, they would upload to Getty images, and pay a licence to pay the people who are subjects for that content.
  2. "Second party - like Google Deep Mind - adding descriptors to an image. This needs a level of intelligence to allow this level of insight that isn’t sensitive and personal, but makes it sensitive and personal.
  3. "Third party is examined under the GDPR's consent rules. I spent time looking at what consent means. It means comprehension that they understand the action that will result from what they are doing."

"What happens when you want to use that data for a new product or service? Sat a chatbot - is that a product? Start to think from a consumer point of view. Not just a banner to accept cookies, think about ways to do things differently," he says.

"Successful businesses do not own assets. If airbnb can be a billion dollar business without owning a building, why do you need to own the data? Without data you cannot access the next evolution in consumer connectivity so find a way to get people to care," he says.

He then explains the rationale behind people.io, his business which licenses data to brands based on preferences consumers actively make.

Oliver says that the £16bn UK ad market divided by 64 million people equals £250 per person.


"Find an efficiency in it. Incentivise the control of data. It's about people having control. People.io enables people to licence their data in return for a payment. Companies don’t see the data.

"We make sure that through the platform are different layers of consent that are clear. Can change linguistic style to make sure the user has the comprehension.

"If they delete their account, their data is deleted. The data never goes anywhere. Every time they answer a question they are incentivised. Instead of focusing spending on marketing, why not think about how to make the life of your customer better and have a better form of engagement?

"Brexit? Don’t care - it won’t have an effect if you are already putting the consumer first," he says. "Portability is important because you tell your customers you value the data about them. You can enhance a person’s life."

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