In 2016 LiveRamp paid roughly $140 million for two companies, Arbor and Circulate, that helped the company improve “people based marketing” and deterministic identity resolution. Last quarter, according to AdExchanger, it divested the location-data component of Arbor.
Arbor and Circulate became part of LiveRamp’s omnichannel, IdentityLink identity resolution tool. Location data was a component of that omnichannel ID resolution.
Companies didn’t really want to talk about it. Location intelligence company Cuebiq, reportedly acquired the location-data portion of Arbor, together with the clients of that business. However, LiveRamp said it was retaining the part of Arbor that enables the company to match first-party data and mobile app data.
I reached out to both companies to determine whether CCPA or increasing privacy concerns motivated the sale, as the AdExchange piece suggests. Neither company was willing to get on the phone but provided statements in email.
LiveRamp CEO Scott Howe said, “When we divested the Acxiom business in October of 2018, we sold off our data manufacturing business and focused our strategy on operating a neutral and open marketplace to connect high-quality, ethically-sourced data sources with data buyers. In line with that strategy, in 2019, we entered into a partnership with Cuebiq whereby we transferred a very insignificant legacy data business that was part of the Arbor acquisition we made in 2016.”
in a follow-up email the company reiterated it was moving away from data aggregation and that Arbor’s location-data business was immaterial.
Sensitivity about privacy compliance. Cuebiq provided an anonymous statement: “We closed a strategic partnership with LiveRamp focused on the development of offline measurement capabilities. As part of the partnership, demand-side clients that were part of Arbor’s location business became Cuebiq clients for products and services of ours. Additionally, we terminated the apps partnerships on the supply side as we already have our own apps relationships entirely based on our first party GDPR and CCPA compliant SDK.”
Reading between the lines, it appears LiveRamp didn’t want to be involved in sourcing location data directly but will rely on trusted partners such as Cuebiq going forward — as the data supply chain comes under increasing scrutiny.
Rising public awareness of location “surveillance.” While ethically sourced location data is available, the “surveillance capitalism” narrative in the press is taking hold and creating nervousness among the public and marketers alike. Increasingly, people are aware that mobile apps capture location. And iOS 13 notifies people of location tracking in the background.
Based on third party data the Wall Street Journal reported, “Since iOS 13 was released in September, tens of millions of people have moved to block apps’ ability to track their locations when not in use, according to an estimate from Location Sciences, a company that verifies mobile location data.”
CCPA’s impact on location-data availability in particular remains to be seen. In theory CCPA could be significantly disruptive, as people opt-out of the sale of their location history to third parties. (Obtaining location from third party app developers is the primary way most companies gain access to it for targeting and attribution.) But in practice most people may not invest the energy and time to opt-out because the burdensome requirements of doing so. So the actual disruption many be minimal.
Why we care. Location data is incredibly valuable for multiple reasons. But the requirements of ethical sourcing, accuracy and quality may limit the number of sources that marketers and brands can turn to beyond first party data. Google and Facebook location data are potentially not impacted by CCPA since they arguably don’t “sell” their data and they don’t need to rely on third parties to obtain that data. So in the same way that GDPR arguably bolstered their respective positions, CCPA may equally and unwittingly reinforce their data dominance.
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