Global event auditor BPA president and CEO Glenn Hansen discusses the need for standards in digital events, including data ownership:
In June 2020, we at BPA Worldwide published an open letter to the industry on the subject of data leakage in the bidstream. It was still early days of the Covid pandemic and digital events were just becoming du jour. Our writing at that time pertained to the digital eco-system and the process of programmatic buying and selling. With the advent of the header bidder process, advertising inventory gets exposed to all interested parties simultaneously. To aid the buyers’ evaluation process, the inventory that is available exposes user data to all those bidding on the ad space. It is designed to help advertisers reach the desired target audience with an efficient buying process. Makes sense.
However, what also happens is some data platforms bid on advertising space with no intention of winning the bid. Rather, they are there to harvest the data of web users and convert that data into products and services. The data harvester would then monetise to the detriment of the media company originally offering the user an advert.
Generally speaking, media companies were not aware of their users’ data being harvested in the bid stream. The signatories to our open letter worked with BPA to refresh IAB standard terms and conditions to better address data ownership. (Email me if you would like the suggested T&Cs: GHansen@bpaww.com).
So, what of the meetings and events industry? Clearly the Covid-19 crisis has disrupted the industry as much as the travel industry (and a few others). As a result, we have witnessed a shift from in-person events to digital conference, meetings and events. This shift was quick and without much industry oversight for those digital event platforms (DEPs) providing the technology. (It was last reported to me that there are more than 300 such companies offering services to organisers today.)
Organisers of digital events approached us as their face-to-face event auditor and asked what metrics should be used for attendance and exhibitors such that they could submit their digital event for ‘approved status’ by UFI (the global association of the exhibition industry) as they had done for in-person events.
This prompted some research on our part and we found a general lack of standards across the DEPs. Terms were not commonly defined. Criteria necessary to meet a definition were not universal. There was no norm for the format of the data.
We organised a tripartite Reporting Standards for Digital Events (RSDE) working group comprised of exhibitor perspective, event organisers, data analysers, and DEPs to tackle the subject. Our project has three phases. First, to recommend digital event metrics to UFI for incorporation in its Auditing Rules for the Statistics of UFI Approved Events. Second, to establish digital event standards for a taxonomy, criteria, and data format, ‘RSDE’, as well as a compliance program to check that DEP technology adheres to the standards. Accomplishing this enables organisers to comparison shop in comfort. Third, to offer standard terms and conditions for organisers to consider when establishing data ownership with a digital event platform.
We came upon phase three after asking ourselves, ‘Are the DEPs similar to bidstream data harvesters?’ When event organisers consider digital events and shop DEPs, are the organisers paying attention to contracts? Are they addressing who owns the data, how the data is stored, and for what the data can be used?
Some DEPs look to use data to create 24/7/365 marketplaces rather than one-off events. Are these marketplaces owned by the event organiser from whom attendee data is being collected? Is attendee data to be anonymised and shared across all event organisers using the same DEP?
Our working group completed phase one at the end of March. Phase two is now available for public comment. Phase three is being undertaken and we expect release for public comment by the end of September. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the matter.