Digital Advertising’s 2-Sided Transparency Problem

There is one side to digital advertising’s transparency problem that practitioners and consumers readily recognize: consumers’ inability to see the data companies collect about them. Consumers interact with a slew of companies online, and these apps, browsers, and websites collect so much data that keeping track of how much companies know about us is virtually impossible.

But there’s another side to digital advertising’s transparency problem: Companies don’t even know what they know about consumers. Businesses, too, use hundreds of applications. Most, if not all, of them collect data on employees and customers. But sifting through that data, figuring out what is necessary, and determining whether it is privacy-compliant is a Sisyphean task.

That’s where DataGrail comes in. The company is helping companies address the consumer-facing transparency problem by providing them transparency into their own vast repositories of data.

“Organizations get so large that no one in the company is aware of the number of apps they have or what they do,” said DataGrail CEO and co-founder Daniel Barber. “Businesses want” to be transparent and comply with rising privacy standards, but “they actually can’t do it.”

Sifting through the data morass

One of the major obstacles to gaining transparency into a company’s store of data is the fragmentation of the many technologies they use.

Technology firms top the list of application addicts, using about 155 applications on average, Okta estimates. Media and communications firms follow with an average of 133. But it’s hardly just famously tech-forward companies that use hundreds of apps. Education comes in third with 126 on average. Retail comes in fourth.

That is why, even as companies increasingly want to get a clear view of their data and make it privacy-compliant, for legal, ethical, and reputation-based reasons, they can’t. “There’s no way a business could do this mechanically without an integrated solution,” Barber said. “There’s no one employee who has that information.”

That’s why DataGrail has built hundreds of integrations to allow companies to organize their data and comply with privacy requests, such as the do-not-sell requests California’s privacy law empowers consumers to send to enterprises.

The big picture

Integrating the data companies have collected to comply with privacy laws may seem esoteric. But fundamentally, that effort is about getting consent for consumer data (something businesses can’t do if they don’t know what they have). And giving consumers transparency and control over what companies do with their data is about maintaining their power over themselves and the role they play in our data-driven economy.

Solutions like DataGrail’s empower companies to be a part of that consumer-oriented, transparency-first future. It’s the same future Apple is pushing, albeit in its own self-interest, by giving consumers the power to stop apps from tracking them. It’s the future all companies are likely to occupy, whether by choice or force, to comply with public opinion, Sacramento, and Cupertino.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018 and compiled the daily newsletter since 2016. Joe is a journalist who has written widely about technology, business, and politics. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.