Lotame's Doug Pollack on Inaccurate Data and the Truth About Data Leakage
It probably comes as no surprise that Army data can be messy. Doug Pollack learned that first-hand while working for the Department of Defense from 2005 to 2007, analyzing wear and tear on tanks used in Iraq.
"We created a methodology as far as how to analyze that," said Mr. Pollack, now the director of client strategy and business development at Lotame. "It was not the cleanest of data; we'd get it literally from soldiers on bases."
Before he started working with the data, the army's approach was more "rudimentary." Basically, if parts broke, they were fixed or replaced. Mr. Pollack's goal was to determine when a part could be expected to break down.
But could he tap his experience working with data about tanks and apply that to consumer data for ad targeting? "The Army definitely helped me become accustomed to working with such large data sets," he said.
A recruiter connected him to Lotame in 2007, giving Mr. Pollack a challenging task: figure out what to do with the company's massive amount of data. "I was looked at as the data guy for the company."
Mr. Pollack has Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from John Hopkins.
He put together a methodology for optimizing the data to better generate clicks and conversions. At the time, Lotame was a data-management platform, though the offering was a bit premature for the market so the firm pivoted to go into the ad network space. The company since has shifted back to providing DMP services, organizing and unifying first party client data and creating targetable audience segments.
Ad Age: You dealt with some pretty messy data while working for the Department of Defense. What were some of the biggest challenges in handling the data? How did that experience influence your approach to your work today?
Mr. Pollack: By far, the biggest challenges were around working with inaccurate and incomplete data sets. ... They have Army soldiers and employees responsible for detailing issues with their equipment at each base. There aren't many other options. Unfortunately, this results in a lack of standards and consistency. So, at times, we would get files where fields would be missing, and due to the nature of the collection, no one could guarantee the accuracy of the data.
The similarities between the Army data and the data at Lotame start and end with the quantity. At the Army, we had a ton of data, and at Lotame, we are dealing with hundreds of billions of data points per month. I have played a large role in the data collection process, owning it early on. My mentality has always been that accuracy trumps everything else and I have put processes in place to keep that mentality consistent. In the ad-tech world, quantity is extremely important -- if the audience sizes are too small, you are not able to serve your ads at any meaningful scale. However, I have taken the stand that we collect accurately and grow naturally over time. Inaccurate data will only lead to horrible results and a negative impression on ad tech as a whole.
Ad Age: Why do you think companies like Mastercard are expanding their data sales operations despite risk of consumer backlash?
Mr. Pollack: I think there are two main reasons for this. First, the data markets are experiencing rapid growth and have high potential. And second, the industry continues to come up with self-regulatory frameworks that at least make a good-faith attempt to deal with consumer privacy concerns (even if they don't always satisfy privacy advocates). So, it has really become a low-risk, high-reward play.
Ad Age: What is different about today's market that influenced Lotame's decision to get back in the DMP business?
Mr. Pollack: I believe it is simply due to time and education. What Lotame started in 2006 was way ahead of its time. If you looked at the ad tech space back then, we were talking about ideas that maybe 1% of the space knew anything about. It takes time to educate and get the results for these extreme, innovative ideas to hit the mainstream. Only in recent years have both marketers and publishers realized there is so much they are able to do with the data they have in order to improve consumer experiences, drive engagement and improve ad products.
Lotame never really left the DMP business. We formed an ad network and became the sole user of our DMP, which we still updated and improved during this time. In 2011, we shut down our media business to put all of our focus and attention to our original business of DMP.
Ad Age: Several companies have been pitching tag-management products to publishers, often using what some say are scare tactics regarding the risk of data leakage. Do you think the threat of data leakage is overblown?
Mr. Pollack: From my experience working with data providers, data aggregators, data buyers, hundreds of websites, and a plethora of technology companies combined with my hands-on work understanding the flow of data, the potential for data leakage to occur is very low. It would require some bad seeds within the industry. Even if there is a manual mistake, which does happen from time to time, it will likely not result in a company's data ending up in someone else's hands. Too many mistakes would need to occur on top of one another for this to occur.
The fear of data leakage is a very real and legitimate concern, but has been overblown by some of our cohorts in this space to help sell features they have invested time and money into. Data leakage does not occur as often as advertised and most DMPs and tag-management companies can help publishers and marketers lessen the possibility of data leakage from occurring.