Online advertising has long been a target for privacy advocates. Between activity tracking, ads that seem to follow you everywhere you go, and lingering fears that big data companies are reading emails or listening to conversations, there has been plenty of mistrust for online marketing. Not all of it is undeserved.
By virtue of the fact that digital out-of-home is in the category of digital marketing, it, too, has gained the suspicion of privacy advocates. Fortunately, DOOH audience data tracking is different from what is done online, meaning many of those concerns are greatly reduced, if not eliminated.
DOOH’s “semi-anonymity,” explained
DOOH audience data is collected and stored in a state of semi-anonymity. This means that while audience data is tracked, no individual’s personal information is ever stored.
To illustrate the concept, here’s a comparison between online targeting and DOOH targeting.
Tim uses his phone to go to his favourite blog, and he sees an ad for a new laptop. After clicking on the ad, he’s sent to an online retailer’s website. He then browses the retailer’s site, looking at a number of different products before closing his window.
These activities are all logged and transmitted to online advertisers, who, among other things, now know:
- That Tim was on his favourite blog
- That he saw and clicked on an ad for a laptop
- What he looked at after clicking on the ad
This data can now be used to serve Tim more targeted advertising. When Tim goes back to his favourite blog, or to other websites that serve ads, he’ll be more likely to receive ads relating to the laptop he initially clicked on an ad for, as well as for the other products he looked at after. Tim’s phone is recognized online as a unique device, so his information gets tied to his unique online identity.
With DOOH, things are a little different.
Suppose Tim goes to the mall to check out that laptop in person at the electronics store. On his way through the mall, he sees a digital sign, and he pauses in front of it. He watches as an ad for a leather jacket, and then an ad for wireless headphones, play on the screen. When an ad for a luxury car plays, he walks away.
The sensors attached to the sign have no way of knowing who Tim is specifically, but they can probably see that he’s a man, aged 35-50, and they know which ads he stayed to watch and when he left. Accumulating enough data of this kind, and it’s possible to discover patterns of behaviour common to the demographics of people who look at a given sign.
The bottom line:
While DOOH audience data is collected, it is much less specific than online data, and does not result in specific campaigns being targeted to specific people. Rather, the data is collected to illuminate patterns in audience activity and preference that can be used to better target campaigns to appropriate audiences – not specific individuals.
The impact of GDPR on DOOH
The biggest data privacy story of recent years was the arrival of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the many ways it would affect audience data collection and the delivery of campaigns. Email marketing and various other kinds of online advertising saw a drop in effectiveness in the wake of GDPR, leading marketing professionals around the world looking for effective alternatives — like DOOH.
So, how does GDPR affect the DOOH space?
Answer: It doesn’t. At least, not directly.
The anonymized nature of DOOH audience data means that DOOH audience data falls outside the scope of GDPR. If your business is all DOOH, all the time, you don’t need to worry about GDPR. If, however, your network somehow draws on data from other channels, like mobile, location or social media, it would be worth taking a moment to ensure you have adequate permissions to draw on those data sources. Even then, only those networks that are either located in the European Union, or that somehow incorporate data from users in the EU, will be directly affected by these regulations.
All in all, the fact that GDPR touches so lightly on the DOOH space means that DOOH is increasingly touted as a good replacement for those online channels that are now more heavily regulated.
DOOH, visual data, and consent
Despite the fact that DOOH networks don’t capture or store information about individuals, there are some types of DOOH data collection that may still turn consumers off. In 2018, it became national Canadian news when facial recognition technology was found to be hooked up to digital info screens located in some of the country’s largest malls. A backlash led to the company that owns those malls promising to cease using the technology for the time being.
This highlights a challenge for network operators today. Where online users generally have some understanding of the fact that their activity is being tracked, it may be less commonly known that tracking is conducted in real-world spaces as well. Some individuals may be unhappy that they were not asked for consent for that tracking to be conducted, and still others may be wary of this kind of technology being used in publicly accessible spaces at all.
Despite striking perhaps the best balance between utility and privacy of any of the major corners of the digital analytics world, there remain concerns by some people about what kind of digital signage audience analytics are collected, and how. Finding ways to more fully communicate what data is tracked and stored by digital signage software will help network operators better manage consumer expectations and avoid unpleasant surprises for privacy-focused individuals.
Do you want to learn more about the most important topics in digital signage?