TrustArc Blog

Meet the Leading Players in the Privacy Ecosystem: Blane Sims, Senior Vice President of Product, Signal

September 25, 2015

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Over a hundred organizations are responsible for shaping the future of data privacy. In this new series we’ll profile some of the organizations that are helping to shape the massive privacy ecosystem through the eyes of the professionals that work there and learn more about their perspectives on privacy.  

 

What is your organization’s role in the privacy ecosystem?

Marketing is a data-driven industry. But the technology that digital marketers have relied on for 20 years haven’t kept pace with all the complexity and fragmentation of today’s landscape. Signal helps advertisers and publishers collect, unify and activate their cross-channel data to deliver real-time, people-based marketing. An important part of powering people-based marketing is solving fundamental privacy and data collection challenges.

I have yet to talk to a marketer who wants to do anything other than provide amazing experiences to customers. Doing things that customers find privacy-invasive is simply incompatible with providing an amazing experience. That’s the challenge we’re focused on: helping brands to recognize and understand their always-on customers so they can delight them with truly engaging experiences — while always respecting their privacy choices.

 

What key goals/issues is your organization focused on tackling?

One of the big issues we’re working on right now is helping consumers set privacy preferences that are both durable and user-friendly. This is challenging in a cross-channel environment, where the patchwork of technology platforms has resulted in a patchwork of privacy settings that is confusing for consumers. The various systems don’t talk to each other, and opt-in and opt-out settings are buried inside of the browser or inside of your smartphone.

From a technology standpoint, Signal is focused on enabling data collection from any channel or device. We are committed to developing better privacy solutions, so we don’t limit our perspective to what you can do with cookies. But trying to move things forward is not always easy in an ecosystem with so much fragmentation.

“Privacy by design” is one of Signal’s founding principles. Privacy by design means that our platform was architected with certain values in mind: we don’t collect personally-identifiable information; we don’t co-mingle one brand’s consumer data with another’s; and we provide tools that give consumers transparency and choice regarding the collection and use of data. We hold these principles near and dear because Signal’s goal is to generate more trust and transparency around the data that’s being collected and shared across the desktop, mobile, email, point-of-sale and other channels.

 

How do you think the Privacy Ecosystem will/needs to evolve over the next 3-5 years to be fit for purpose?

It’s time for the privacy ecosystem to evolve beyond the browser. Cookies aren’t a perfect way to set your privacy preferences because they are attached to a browser. One of the ironies in the system is that by clearing your cookies you think you’re protecting your privacy, but it can have the opposite effect of clearing your privacy settings. Additionally, more and more consumers are accessing the Internet from mobile devices, where cookies don’t work. Cookies and browsers will continue becoming less and less important with addressable TV and the Internet of Things on the horizon.

 

What is the biggest current threat (to consumers or businesses?)

The biggest threat to consumers is that a very small number of very large companies are ending up with all of their data. More and more data is being concentrated in the hands of companies like Facebook and Google. They know every article I read. They know the information I’m sharing with friends. They know what purchases I make and they’re increasingly responsible for the ads I see. The danger is that consumers are implicitly sharing data but they don’t have a lot of control – and brands they trust don’t have a lot of control – over how it is accessed and used.

Positive steps have been taken by companies such as Truste but privacy controls still remain a fairly fragmented experience.  We need more industry-standard ways to tie data together and we need more independent mechanisms for consumers to set privacy preferences in an over-arching fashion.

 

Tell us about your role at Signal.

I define the strategy and roadmap for Signal’s real-time data platform and work closely with our partners and clients to bring together disparate channels into integrated people-based marketing systems.

 

How did you start working in the privacy field and why do you enjoy it?

As part of the team that started Signal nearly 6 years ago, I became deeply involved in the privacy field because of our mission to build privacy into our platform from the start. I brought to Signal a background in web technology from my ecommerce work at the travel site Orbitz and Vignette, a content management solutions provider, and paired that with a strong desire to create meaningful privacy choices for consumers. I enjoy working with the privacy community because I believe that technology is a critical component in answering the questions that are legitimately raised by the world of massively personalized customer experiences in which we now live.

 

What do you wish more [people, business, etc.] knew about privacy?

I wish more businesses knew that privacy is something to actually lean into by working proactively with their privacy experts and technology partners to come up with better consent solutions for their customers. Brands that are going to win now and in the future are those that are able to deliver contextually accurate experiences to consumers. The only way to do that is to be able to understand all of the different pieces of information they can glean about the customer’s needs right now, what has led the customer to this point in the conversation and ultimately, how to keep the conversation moving forward. The businesses that will have a significant competitive advantage are the ones that are thinking about this now – how to connect all this data and how privacy can be protected.

 

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