Dynamit Joins Crownpeak's Partner Ecosystem to Offer the Next Wave in Digital Experience Platforms
We're all aware our data is farmed as we browse online. We know tags are used to serve relevant ads and personalise content. We have the option to use privacy settings if we're not comfortable with this.
We're all aware. But how much do we care? And would we feel differently if we knew the full extent of the "game of tag" that's being played around us?
In its quest to make communications work for everyone, the UK's communications regulator Ofcom recently launched a new annual report - Online Nation - looking at what people are doing online, how they are served by online content providers and platforms, and their attitudes to and experiences of using the internet. Research took place during May 2019 and Crownpeak's technology was used to analyse use of tags on the most popular UK sites - including Google sites, Amazon sites, Facebook, BBC sites, Microsoft sites, and Sky sites - to gain a picture of how user behaviour is recorded. Since trust and transparency is a key component to our philosophy, we were delighted to be involved.
Online advertising - more than double the revenue of TV advertising
Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised by the extent of online behaviour tracking. After all, advertising is the primary source of revenue for most online sectors. Online advertising generated £13.4bn in the UK in 2018, representing 57% of total UK advertising revenue (television was the second largest sector at £5.1bn - 22% of total advertising revenue), according to Ofcom's report.
In line with this, the research showed almost nine in ten (87%) UK households have internet access, and 70% of people use a 4G mobile service to get online, while children and young adults spend much more time online than watching television.
But despite time spent online rising year on year - average for connected adults in September 2018 was 3 hours 15 minutes a day - eight in ten adults have concerns about some aspects of internet use. Headlines in the press throw up issues about data leaks, data-sharing and mis-use of data, but how concerned are people about data sharing?
The great data exchange
The research showed seven in ten (71%) adults are aware of cookies being used to collect information through websites, and a similar number (69%) accept terms and conditions without reading them. With only 39% saying they are not happy for companies to collect and use their personal information, it seems the majority of people are happy for companies to collect personal information under certain conditions.
Trust levels vary, however, from site to site.
Who do you trust?
Facebook's bad press has resulted in reduced use in the past two years and just 31% of users trust the platform to protect personal data and use it responsibly. YouTube fares only slightly better at 34%. On the flip side, trust is highest (67%) for the BBC News site, closely followed by Amazon (66%).
But what are consumer trust levels based on? Do they have a proper measure of the sites they're using?
The results of this survey would suggest "no."
The truth about tags
Crownpeak was approached by Ofcom to help reveal the truth about how tags are used on the most popular websites. Crownpeak's Trackermap tool scans URLs and identifies the tags present in a website's HTML code (including pixels and other tags). It simulates a user accessing a page for the first time on a desktop computer.
Ofcom analysed the web tags present on the top ten news, entertainment, search, social media and e-commerce sites in the UK. All sites were scanned on May 6-7 2019. The number of tags on desktop sites across the categories ranged from an average of three to an average of 77 - and you'd be surprised by those at each end of the scale.
News sites host most tags
Despite enjoying high levels of trust from consumers, news sites in fact host more tags on average than any other category of site - averaging 77 unique tags. Perhaps this is reflective of the difficulties in the sector, with publications relying on selling page views and user data to stay afloat.
Conversely, it is the search and social media sites that use the least number of tags - 12 on average for social media and three for search. Although this could perhaps be attributed to their ability to access user data directly through their own services, rather than rely on third-party data, advertising or analytics providers.
Piggybacking in the game of tag
To add further complexity, in all types of site, most of the tags were "piggybacked" - in other words, they are chained together as a redirect leads to a second tag, from a separate company, being included. The second tag can also redirect, leading to further piggybacking from other vendors - and so it goes on. These are the tags most commonly used for advertising, and the multitude of layers involved adds increasing opacity to the data journey.
Turning trust on its head
The take-home message is that perceptions of trust may be ill-founded, and there is limited understanding among consumers about how their data is collected and used. Not great in a post-GDPR era.
Of course, not all tags are used for advertising and this research was only a snapshot in time - and did not reflect a returning, logged-in, or mobile user's experiences. But what is clear is the gap between perceptions and reality. It's a complex playing field, further confused by piggybacking - and many businesses are unaware they could be culpable for data breaches as a result.
This survey has highlighted an important gap in understanding of data use. In an era when transparency and trust are key, businesses who take control of this game of tag - and are open with consumers - will be the winners.