From Everyone to No One: Front-End Data's "Common Tragedy"​

The "tragedy of the commons" is an economic concept that deals with the effects of unrestricted access to common commodities or other resources. In essence, the lesson of the tragedy of the commons is that everyone’s inexpensive, easy-to-access property is no one’s property. When we use these kinds of resources in an unfettered, entirely self-interested way, we wind up depleting its collective value.

Marketers, developers, businesses -- we’ve approached client-side data in an entirely self-interested, uncoordinated way. As a result, we’ve steadily depleted the value of the ecosystem.

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Front-end data collection has been at the core of martech and adtech for three decades. Since the 90s, user data has been one of the most valuable assets companies can use to create targeted marketing experiences. This has led to a completely different online experience, one that is highly personalized and incredibly effective.

Marketing departments, CMOs, web and app developers, agencies, publishers -- we find most enterprise players have trouble believing the end of this thirty-year-old system is coming. In fact, it’s already being phased out and will diminish in effectiveness at a rapid rate over the next 24 months. Unfortunately, we ourselves are partially to blame for this collapse.

In a classic “tragedy of commons,” front-end data flows are now failing on technical, social, and legal fronts and will become a thing of the past before we know it.

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The Tragedy of the Commons in the Modern Era

The "tragedy of the commons" is an economic concept that deals with the effects of unrestricted access to common commodities or other resources. Examples would include human-scale resources like public restrooms or large-scale environmental resources like waterways and free-range lands that individuals or companies can use at their leisure.

In essence, the lesson of the tragedy of the commons is that everyone’s inexpensive, easy-to-access property is no one’s property. When we use these kinds of resources in an unfettered, entirely self-interested way, we wind up depleting its collective value.

When no individual or organization is tasked with the responsibility of maintaining and sustaining the resource, we tend to undervalue, underinvest, and eventually deplete it. Prior to the environmental protection regulations we have today, industrialized fishing and lumber production depleted food and forest resources.

Other examples would include unregulated common lands 19th century Britain and the “free range” lands here in the American west. In these cases, animals eat all the grass, and, as a result, the land is no longer useful. Overfishing Cod in the middle of the 20th century would be another example. That caused a decades-long fisheries collapse. And, finally, climate change is probably the ultimate example of the tragedy of the commons.

This is what we've done with our current approach to collecting, storing, and distributing data online:

Marketers, developers, businesses -- we’ve approached client-side data in an entirely self-interested, uncoordinated way. As a result, we’ve steadily depleted the value of the ecosystem.

This is for both soft and hard reasons. Human beings no longer like or trust it, and it’s also failing technically. Like grass and fish, the data itself has tremendous value. And it’s a renewable resource. But the complex, ad hoc, decades-old system we’ve used to collect, store, and distribute data on the front end has all but collapsed.

The End of Front-End Data Flows

Front-end data collection has become an increasingly careless (and ineffectual) way to create targeted campaigns online. And because we used methods that were not created with regard to user privacy, consumers have caught on and no longer trust the system. Not only do these systems disregard their privacy, failures in the system have led to dangerous data breaches, putting financial and personal information at risk for exploitation.

Some browsers such as Safari and Firefox caught onto the privacy-first trend early and stopped supporting third-party cookies and other trackers in 2017. This led to a 20-25% decrease in reach for front-end data collection tools. New technologies soon developed to block front-end data generators, winning the war for user trust and effectively eliminating front-end data collection for another 20-30% of online users. Now, Google is planning the same phase-out of third-party cookie support, which means even more users will be unreachable through traditional front-end data collection.

Today, privacy-first browsers, VPNs, and ad blockers make front-end analytics tools up to 89% inaccurate.

The number is so staggering many marketing companies refuse to believe it. However, they're only setting themselves back further by delaying the migration from front-end data collection to privacy-first marketing technology.

Some companies on the forefront have made an effort to become “cookie-free” or at least more transparent about their use of such technologies, but most of them are still misinformed about privacy-first terminology and the shift away from third-party data.

To be “cookie-free” doesn't mean a company has phased out front-end data collection, nor will they be immune to privacy-first disruptions.

In order to truly embrace the privacy-first world, companies must move away from front-end data collection entirely and look for solutions that are founded on privacy-first and server-side data.

It isn’t an easy transition to embrace, but that’s exactly what makes it worthwhile.

Not a Tweak. Not a Hack. Not a Workaround. A Fundamental Change.

Migrating to a privacy-first data model cannot be accomplished by eliminating cookies, tweaking marketing products, or making minor changes to compliance. We need to completely rethink and retool the ways in which systems communicate with one another and store consumer information. And we need to do so without breaking current consumer expectations. Web users still want their online experience to be streamlined and personalized. They just want better control over the ways their information is used.

Building a better, more compliant system will allow data to flourish again. And all the downstream beneficiaries of that data -- agencies, consumers, software tools, &c. -- will be rejuvenated as well.

It's possible to create data generators that recreate trust with consumers and meet marketing needs. That is what Confection is doing, and we're doing it in the privacy-first world. We use a noninvasive structure to collect, store, and distribute data. Our product, which is compliant with global privacy regulations like GDPR, CCPA, and LGPD, won’t be blocked by client-side disruptions because it doesn't rely on front-end data mechanisms. We utilize safe server-side, first-party methods to collect information, and these don't put your customers' personal information at risk.

You may think without front-end data technology your marketing campaigns won’t be as effective or as targeted as traditional models. However, we've proven that privacy-first technology can match (or beat) top web analytics services without the use of cookies, third-party scripts, or any other front-end data storage. This means you can reach a larger percentage of web users (many of whom are currently unavailable to you) and still generate the analytics you need to fuel high-performing campaigns.

As we continue developing our forward-looking system, our team is working hard to find solutions that are friendly to everyday web users and enterprise interests. For us, sacrificing one for the other is a false choice. Policy makers, enterprise interests, and people -- working together, we can build a better, more compliant web.

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Confection collects, stores, and distributes data in a way that's unaffected by client-side disruptions involving cookies, cross-domain scripts, and device IDs. It's also compliant with global privacy laws so it’s good for people too.

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