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Omar Oakes 

What's next for InfoSum, the company behind ITV and Channel 4's data privacy tech

What's next for InfoSum, the company behind ITV and Channel 4's data privacy tech

It’s been one year since ITV announced it had appointed InfoSum, a then little-known “privacy by design” tech company, to allow advertisers to blend their data with a broadcaster's audience data without causing a breach.

Since then InfoSum, founded by entrepreneur and programmer Nick Halstead, has emerged as the industry’s go-to service for companies that want to use data outside of their business without comprising their users’ privacy.

It also works with Channel 4 in a similar fashion for their Br4ndMatch “data-matching solution” and has since penned partnership deals with Omnicom Media Group, one of the world’s largest media buyers, and Starcount, the customer data company founded by Dunnhumby duo Edwina Dunn and Clive Humby.

ITV also went further last August by agreeing to invest £1m in InfoSum for a minority shareholding.

Now Halstead, also the company's chief technology officer, is eyeing expansion in the US, Germany, and the rest of Europe. He also claims that "demand in Asia is huge right now" but the company is not yet ready to agree which partners it will work with.

He is speaking to Mediatel News just before InfoSum announced its $65m Series B funding round with UK investment fund Chrysalis, which, Halstead says, will enable the company to grow by doubling the size of its engineering team while also bolstering the number of salespeople.

No need to 'hand over data'

ITV and Channel 4, Halstead explains, have both been “in it for the long haul”, meaning that the broadcasters understood “the bigger picture” of what is necessary to offer a meaningful way to blend their data with advertisers’ data in a privacy-compliant way.

“I built this to give people the opportunities to make their own network,” he explains. “The foundation of this investment is we’re building a very different category of company to allow media owners like ITV and Channel 4 who have valuable first party audiences and data associated with them.  They don’t have to do just what was in done in the past, which is give that data to Google, Facebook whatever and its lives on someone else’s network.”

InfoSum is a data infrastructure business which helps connect and activate separated datasets without putting customer data or personally identifiable information at risk.

There should never be need for holders of first party data to give up the value of that data.

The company’s approach to customer data collaboration, called the ‘non-movement of data,’ is focused on privacy, security, and the creation of “owned customer identity platforms”.

In other words, a company like ITV can use InfoSum’s software to enable an advertiser, for example, to blend its data with ITV’s data without a risk of a data breach or people’s privacy being compromised.

Importantly, advertisers should be able to accurately target customised audiences without requiring any personal data to be shared or using third-party IDs to profile people.

“This technology hasn’t existed before,” Halstead (pictured, above) insists.” “It was always ‘point to point’ and ‘hand my data over to one of the big data brokers and let them resell it’.

"We’re the very opposite to that. We give [clients] the tech so they can create their own opportunities and that’s why we’ve been so successful. There should never be need for holders of first party data to give up the value of that data.”

Untapped market has 'hundreds of thousands of customers'

Data breaches have become a serious concern for brands after a spate of GDPR fines issued to major companies for leaks in recent years, while information commissioners across Europe have investigated the multibillion-pound real-time bidding auction markets. Every time an auction is run for a website’s display ad, data profiles may be exposed to many dozens of companies involved in the bid-request process.

This ‘Wild West’ of data-handling is exactly the problem Halstead, a programmer who is credited with inventing the Twitter “Retweet” button, has tried to solve with InfoSum.

“The lovely thing about being a software stack, rather than a service, is we just allow others to take our tech and deploy it into new regions. Partly it’s us finding trusted partners in those new regions, like parts of Asia, then for them to run that using our technology.”

But isn’t there a risk that what InfoSum offers will eventually be copied by rival companies and will be seen as a commodity without a unique selling point?

“We have a multiyear tech advantage over anyone,” Halstead insists. “We know that some of the big cloud providers are starting to build clean rooms as solutions but we don’t count ourselves in the clean room category because we do so much more than that. So it’s going to take years and years for people to catch up."

Halstead does not even see InfoSum as a rival to "clean rooms", where walled gardens like Google, Facebook and Amazon share aggregated rather than customer-level data with advertisers. Instead he predicts that "data collaboration" will become a whole new category of company.

He explains: “With this investment we can extend our maturity and functionality and continue to be a market leader. It’s such a huge open market right now, it’s the least of my worries. There are so many customers that want to take control of this data. It will take another year or two before Forrester or Gartner realise this is another form of category.

“I’ve always thought of what we do as supplying a Cisco router but focusing on customer data. You need a router to plug all the internal parts of your business into all the other companies that you want to network with. That’s a market in which there are hundreds of thousands of businesses that will need to do that.”

Halstead believes potential rivals in this space are so far behind because the media industry has “scrabbled around for the last five to ten years” over offering privacy compliant data-handling software.

“My investors have allowed me to build for over four years now to bring mature solutions,” he says.

The new funding round mean that Richard Watts of Chrysalis will a five-person board which also comprises Halstead, InfoSum CEO Brian Lesser, the company’s original angel investor Mark Suster (Upfront Ventures) and an independent board member who is yet to be named.

The round brings the total amount raised to $90m since the company’s inception in 2016.

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