People are concerned about their personal data. Companies online taking it, storing it, selling it – all without people’s understanding or consent. For the masses, the most outrageous example of this has perhaps been the case of Cambridge Analytica. The British political consulting firm used user data from Facebook, and it is said to have influenced voting results in several elections, including the American presidential election in 2016. The users themselves had no idea this was taking place.
GDPR, the General Data Protection Regulation passed by the European Union in 2018, was meant to give the control of private data back to the people. Among other regulations, it was designed to enforce measures so that any website owner must have the users’ consent to collect and use their data. The regulation’s impact was visible to everyone who visited websites for the first time after the GDPR came to effect. Users now had to give explicit consent for their data to be collected and used.
People are increasingly concerned about where they are being tracked, how, and for what purposes. At the same time companies want to collect more data to monetise visitors in every possible way. This is especially important for companies that produce content with massive budgets. For instance, Netflix is planning to spend $17.3 billion on original content in 2020. With such an investment companies rely on data in order to be able to target the right content to the right people. Spotify collects and analyses massive amounts of user data just to do that: to know what songs to suggest to what users.
Especially in Europe, several companies are looking to tackle these two important issues. How to meet the growing data privacy regulation while ensuring that the correct customers and users are given the correct services? One of the service providers focused on solving this dilemma is React & Share, a startup from Helsinki.
React & Share was founded in 2015 in Helsinki and is located at Villa Vladimir, a 19th century wooden office building protected by the Finnish Heritage Agency. The startup was founded with one guiding vision: help communications and marketing teams create content that serves their readers anonymously.
“To provide our service, we collect a lot of data about online readers. But unlike many other data players we believe the readers and the content creators own that data.” says Timo Virtanen, CEO of React & Share. He adds: “Appreciating people’s personal data is in our very core”. The company states that it does not want to know who the readers are, in fact it does all it possible can to avoid knowing. “Our content analytics is private by design.”
This is not a common approach. Normally companies track users to get data for profit on their persona. React & Share and its founders took a different route: The true value is in understanding the behaviour of anonymous users, not the identity of these users.
This privacy-first approach followed by the company is backed by recent decisions by Apple and Google to block third party cookie tracking in their browsers. These cookies are software installed in a user’s web browser that allow different companies to track users wherever they are online. This action by Google and Apple is aimed to prevent tracking and to protect the users of their web browsers.
GDPR is not a solution that fixes everything that is missing in the field of personal data protection. It is a starting point, acting as first assertive regulation in the field as well as an opening statement. More regulation is certain to follow, as technologies develop and people become more aware of how their data is used in ways the users would not agree to.
Europe is not the only place where data privacy concerns are in the headlines. These things are an issue globally. React & Share is growing quickly abroad, mainly because of its unique mix of anonymity and content analytics. “Us Finns have been thinking about these things for a long time now”, notes the CEO Virtanen, a cofounder. He maintains that Finnish companies are at the forefront on thinking about data privacy issues, while others abroad are only starting to wake up. In California, regulation similar to GDPR is being prepared. “We have a head start, but others will try to catch up as the public grows more concerned”, says Virtanen.
Saebo, an equipment manufacturer for people with impaired mobility, is an example of a US company that has been using the tools of React & Share for some time. Virtanen comments: “At the end of the day our customers want to make money or save money by creating content. We have managed to help Saebo achieve these goals better than Google Analytics and other tools they used in the past”.
In its domestic market in Finland, React & Share’s customer base also includes non-profit organizations such as KELA, the Social Insurance Institution and the Finnish Defence Forces.
While some customers create content to drive up sales, these bodies aim to help individuals to learn how public services can provide useful help in people’s everyday lives online. And these non-profit bodies also need to track and analyze how well they are serving their readers.
“Our governmental customers get over 30 times more feedback on average than before. What has surprised us and our customers is the quality of the readers’ feedback. When it is anonymous and goes directly to the people writing the content, people seem to focus on the issues instead of bickering with other people online”, says Timo Virtanen, who has extensive experience working with different online services.
Increasing data privacy concerns will stay and only grow. Many organisations are scrambling with this and business is booming for React & Share. “When we started the company, we realised that our Finnish values might cause us to lose some business in the short run. But there is no doubt in our minds that our way is the way the entire world is steering towards”, concludes CEO Virtanen. Clients seem to agree, and the upcoming regulation is bringing in more sales. The company expects to triple its sales this year.