Digital publishers are compromised by third parties (Google, Facebook, advertising vendors, social media widget providers, and others) that take, use, and monetise the customer data publishers generate.

And it’s precisely that access to customer data that causes its value to diminish and threatens publisher profitability.

Instead of inadvertently giving data away, publishers need to learn what it means to take control of their data and start putting it to use to boost audience engagement, increase digital advertising revenue, and drive more paid digital subscriptions.

A recent publishing profitability survey of nearly 400 United States publishing executives showed that 78% of publishers don’t know if third parties access their data, and whether or how they are monetising it. Furthermore, publishers don’t have a clear idea of who or how many third parties are accessing their site and pilfering their data.

But whether they understand it or not, it’s happening virtually everywhere.

Publishers: Want to know whether someone else is making money from your data? It’s as easy as viewing the “terms and conditions” for popular third-party scripts deployed on your Web site. What you’ll likely find is a remarkable and somewhat frightening picture of data leakage and misunderstanding.

As an example, the small print for one popular widget that reaches more than 97% of the online population in the United States alone is rather telling.

This particular widget is deployed on 14 million sites worldwide and reaches 1.6 billion unique browsers monthly. The widget owner notes it will use the publisher’s customer information to its own advantage – including sharing data for targeted advertising.

Specifically, the terms of service for this seemingly innocuous widget read as follows:

“We may deploy a cookie on our own behalf or on behalf of our data partners, to record information about how an end user uses the Web, such as the Web search that landed the end user on a particular page or categories of the end user's interests. We may use the data to target advertising toward the end user or authorise others to do the same

If you do not cause us to discontinue the placement of our cookies, you grant us a non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, and irrevocable right and license to collect, use, and disclose the data as provided in our privacy policy and to allow our third-party data partners to do the same.

If you’re like many publishers, you may not recall agreeing to terms like this. That’s because it likely happened years ago when you and every other publisher were racing to create a digital presence, without understanding the value of your user/reader data.

But over time, what’s become more and more obvious are the detrimental side effects that data leakage can cause to publisher advertising revenue.

The truth is, this broad grab of publishers’ unique data completely commoditises it.

What can publishers do to reverse this dangerous trend?

  • Do a complete audit of your sites to see who is accessing your data (there are software programmes that help expedite the process).

  • Determine whether there are contractual obligations around the third-party relationships (if so, note end dates and revisit at the appropriate time).

  • Determine which scripts can be removed without hurting the visitor experience or buy/build similar tools or scripts to eliminate the third parties from grabbing the data.

  • Learn how to use Big Data to your own advantage, to target advertising or content.

In short, publishers who want to improve their cash flow need to take back control over their own data.

For their part, publishers responding to the publishing profitability survey said they expect their digital ad revenues will grow over the next year. Now they just have to turn that optimism into action.

For the record, not all technology vendors are the same. Our philosophy at Cxense is to empower publishers by enabling them to make use of their own data. We never use, leak, or sell the data – because, well ... shouldn’t it go without saying?