How 4 LA Tech Companies Think About Ethical Data Use

by Janey Zitomer
October 2, 2019

If we as a nation have learned anything in the past five or so years, it’s that corporate access to valuable personal data is a two-sided coin –– and often feels more like a three-headed monster. Attend any dinner party and you’ll hear a lot of opinions about what big tech companies should or shouldn’t be doing with the information we knowingly (and unknowingly) provide them. 

While a few giants have certainly stole the spotlight, plenty of tech organizations make data security their mission. What processes do they have in place to protect their users? We went to the source in LA to find out. 

 

Genly team meeting
Genly

Creating online audiences to generate ad revenue is one thing. Targeting specific people who would actually benefit from those advertisements is another. Genly offers an inbound lead generation platform that leverages data to create highly accurate online audiences, resulting in qualified leads. Oz Porat, CEO at Genly, told us where ethical data use comes into play in the industry below. 

 

What is an example of ethical and unethical uses of data as they pertain to your industry?

Advertisers can now use data to better reach their target market online. With companies like Facebook and Google offering onboarding services on their advertising platforms, creating online audiences is easier than ever. 

The ethical challenge here is that many audiences are created with very low accuracy rates (I’ve seen as low as 8 percent) causing advertisers to spend their budget on the wrong people. Consequently, users find themselves on lists that have nothing to do with them. They are targeted irrelevant ads. 

Ninety-five percent of the inbound leads we generate are qualified.’’ 

 

Walk us through the initiatives or ethics principles your organization has adopted to ensure the ethical use of data, and why youve adopted them.

Part of the problem is a misalignment of interests between clients, agencies, and data companies. While clients focus on performance, they compensate their agencies and data partners based on media spend, driving the focus on greater reach rather than accuracy. 

The way we solve this issue at Genly is by packaging media buy solutions into cost-per-lead (CPL) programs, where advertisers pay only for qualified leads. We’ve partnered with data companies to focus on accuracy so we are completely aligned with our clients’ targeting needs and are able to serve relevant content to users. It has proven to be very successful. Ninety-five percent of the inbound leads we generate are qualified. Our clients continuously shift budget to Genly’s platform from other programs. 

 

Armen Adjemian, Co-Founder and CEO at DISQO
DISQO

While you may be protecting yourself from a legal standpoint, unethical data practices transend the small print in a pop up box. Co-founder and CEO of DISQO Armen Adjemian told us more about how he thinks about ethical data usage and why he makes sure all users of the market research platform understand terms from beginning to end. 

For readers who are new to the topic, what is an example of ethical and unethical uses of data as they pertain to your industry?

Data ethics begin with transparency, which is of paramount importance to the market research industry. Transparency means that people who share data understand what data they are sharing, how they are sharing it, and for what purpose. Transparency also means that the users of this data know how it is captured and can rely on the sustainability of the data source over time.

An example of an ethical usecase is asking everyday people to participate in a survey for market research purposes, and using this survey-based data for market research and no other reason.

An unethical use of data would be using an unseeming application, such as a flashlight or cyber-security tool, as a mechanism for collecting data (unbeknownst to the user) for monetization that has no connection with the marketed purpose of the application.

In the latter case, though you may have a privacy policy that discloses the use of this data, the reality is that most people don’t take the time to read long privacy policies and oftentimes don’t understand the intricacies of legalese. This is where ethics comes in. It’s absolutely imperative to have completely transparent processes that enable people to make informed choices about what data they share.

At DISQO, we believe that ethical data is data that is collected and used honestly.’’

 

Walk us through the initiatives or ethics principles your organization has adopted to ensure the ethical use of data, and why you've adopted them.

At DISQO, we believe that ethical data is data that is collected and used honestly. This is one of the founding principles behind how we built the DISQO platform.

As a platform built on trust, one of the initiatives our product development lives by is creating a user interface that simply and accurately explains what data we collect and how we use it. This ensures that we are getting informed consent from every person who shares data with us.

 

 

Sense team outing
Sense 360

The secret sauce that has made Sense360 so successful also means they have to be extra conscientious when it comes to customer privacy. And they are. The “P” word is a recurring theme in every stage of development. Sense360 gives restaurants and retail brands consumer insights based on qualitative data, using sensors and user location. While they do know where a key customer might be physically headed, they purposefully don’t track or access any other identifying details about that individual. Co-founder and CEO Eli Portnoy gave us more in-depth info about their process.  

 

What is an example of ethical and unethical uses of data as they pertain to your industry?

As the world continues to digitize, the amount of consumer data being generated is exploding. There is no question that companies value all of this data and can find ways to monetize it. The real question is: do the companies have clear and transparent permission to use the data? How are they protecting the end-user’s privacy?

Since the day we founded Sense360, we have made protecting privacy a cornerstone of our approach.’’

 

Walk us through the initiatives or ethics principles your organization has adopted to ensure the ethical use of data, and why you’ve adopted them.

Since the day we founded Sense360, we have made protecting privacy a cornerstone of our approach. It starts with a privacy pledge every single person on the team signs. Our privacy law firm reviews our practices on a recurring basis and we commit to putting privacy first. It’s important to make sure the consumer’s voice is in the room when we make decisions. This translates into bleeding-edge initiatives that help protect our consumers. 

As an example, we recognized early on that a user’s home location is highly sensitive. So we built an algorithm to identify that location, which is then stored only on the user’s device (not our servers). This allows the device to check all collected visits to make sure they are not close to the user's home before sending them to our servers. 

Another example is that, in speaking to people, it became clear that certain location types are private. These include places like doctors’ offices or visits to places of worship. So we manually categorized over 500 types of personal places and now automatically mask any of those visits. We don’t sell location or other behavioral data about individuals but rather aggregate the information to provide general market research. We have definitely given up revenue opportunities and increased our costs as a result of our approach to privacy. But we feel confident that this is the right path. It’s one that we are very proud of. 

 

ace metrix team meeting
Ace Metrix

Ace Metrix is a tech company holding a metaphorical microscope up to creepy advertising practices –– of which, in today’s world, there are many. Susie Graham, VP of product marketing, told us about how they help video advertising companies drive business results based on data while contributing positively to society at large. 

 

What is an example of ethical and unethical uses of data as they pertain to your industry?

Data usage in advertising, particularly in the digital world, tends to give people the creeps. Ads seem to be listening to you. And while it creates targeted experiences, consumers tend to feel weirded out. Ace Metrix data lives in a far less creepy world. We’re helping brands make impactful decisions about their video ads with insights generated from our quantitative and qualitative data. These decisions can often help brands contribute positively to society by allowing marketers to understand how their creative content is being perceived. These insights not only enhance the positive aspects of the material, but can help reduce situations where the content may unknowingly have cast a negative light on a group or community.

We’re helping brands make impactful decisions about their video ads with insights generated from our quantitative and qualitative data.’’

 

Walk us through the initiatives or ethics principles your organization has adopted to ensure the ethical use of data, and why youve adopted them.

Ace Metrix recently launched a scoring system that gives brands insight into the positive and negative impact of their ads in terms of culture. Purpose-driven marketing is seeing a rise with brands trying to establish meaning and relevance in order to connect with consumers emotionally. At the same time, consumers are quick to call-out a brand for tone-deaf ad content or disingenuous advertising. Our cultural perception scoring system gives advertisers a way to manage the risk and reward. In other words, they can identify empowering and exploitative elements in their advertising. This not only helps brands find meaning and gain trust among today’s consumers; it also can prevent undue harm on any culture in the form of stereotyping, objectification, pandering and so on. 

 

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