The Battle for ATTENTION: Will AI Save The Advertising Industry in a Privacy-Driven Economy?

The Clean Room is Already Dead

By SCUBA Insights

Alright, friends. Let’s talk about the hottest speaking session at Programmatic I/O: “The Clean Room is Already Dead.” If you missed it, don’t sweat. We’re here for the TL’DR.

Imagine yourself sitting in a conference room at Programmatic I/O, probably nursing your third cup of coffee, when Ross Schwaber, SVP Solutions at SCUBA Analytics, steps up to the podium. The man’s got a charisma that makes you forget your caffeine withdrawal, and he kicks off with a zinger about the latest session on the “Disappointment of First Party Data.” Instantly, you’re hooked. Here’s the lowdown on what Schwaber had to say, backed by the same wit and wisdom you’d expect from a presentation titled, “The Clean Room is Already Dead,” at a conference touting the adoption of clean rooms.

The Changing Media Landscape: No Going Back

Schwaber starts by painting a picture of today’s media landscape – think of it as the Wild West but with fewer horses and more privacy concerns. Consumers are waking up to how their data is being used, and spoiler alert: they’re not exactly thrilled. As a consequence, legislators and the public are doubling down on their calls for greater agency and accountability. 


Next, Schwaber tackles attention fragmentation. With everyone and their grandmother glued to different screens and platforms, brands and publishers need to meet their audiences wherever they’re at. Even if it’s glued to the latest iPad. This is getting tougher thanks to the slow, painful death of third-party cookies. As Schwaber asserts, we all need to raise our data game because meeting audiences where they are is becoming exponentially trickier.

Clean Rooms: Noble Beginnings to Overpriced and Underdelivering Referees

Enter the clean room. It started with the best intentions, like that guy who brings veggie trays to parties to seem healthy. Clean rooms promised to help brands adhere to privacy standards and sort out identity issues. Yet, clean rooms today are more like that hammer you got from IKEA – and suddenly, everything’s a nail.

These spaces have become pricey compliance exercises that don’t necessarily deliver meaningful business outcomes. When you pay for a clean room, Schwaber reminds us, you’re essentially paying for a slow, expensive data referee. Here are some of the common gripes:


  • Complex Implementation: Setting up a clean room is like assembling flat-pack furniture but with more data engineers, security experts, and compliance officers. It’s a headache, and rarely as efficient as advertised. 
  • Data Quality and Standardization: For clean rooms to work, data needs to be as standardized as those pre-drilled holes in Ikea furniture. But let’s face it, datasets come in a disappointing array of formats, definitions, and quality, throwing a wrench in our ability to extract in-the-moment insights for measurement and activation.  
  • User Access Management: Clean room management requires data access and provisioning to align with privacy regulations. And, once the privacy policies are developed, managing a clean room requires fine grained access controls to enforce said policies. Cue additional workstreams, and potentially even legal fees.
  • Lack of Interoperability: If we’re being honest, clean rooms don’t necessarily share the same standard protocols, making it difficult for them to “collaborate.” This makes in-the-moment insights, activation, and measurement a bit more complicated than advertised.

And it doesn’t stop there. Issues with ID resolution, performance constraints, exorbitant costs, technical expertise requirements, scalability problems, and limited functionality all add to the unfulfilled promises of the clean room.

Enter PETs: The New Hope

Despite all the clean room chatter, Schwaber introduces a new kid on the block – Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs). These bad boys (and girls, and kids of all identities) promise to make things better, on a few different levels:

  • Flexible Collaboration: Flexible and user-friendly solutions that can enable business users to easily gain actionable insights from data collaboration.
  • Agnostic ID Secure Matching: Critical to managing data across multiple systems without compromising privacy and security.
  • Decentralized Insights: When insights are decentralized, data stays put, both behind your firewall and regionally, but you can still query it from anywhere. It’s like having your cake and eating it too, at least as far as privacy and insights are concerned.

Schwaber’s grand finale questions how we can merge data and learn in real-time. Clean rooms just can’t cut it – they can’t match in real-time at the edge or show how a campaign is impacted on the fly. What’s needed is secure data collaboration that drives self-service insights. No more waiting for analysts to get you the data you need. Instead, the future proof investment is in a platform that supports in-the-moment insight activation, allowing you to make changes as you learn.

The Grand Finale

Ross Schwaber’s talk was a wake-up call for the advertising industry. Clean rooms had their moment, but it’s time to evolve. Privacy-Enhancing Technologies (PETs) are stepping into the spotlight, promising more efficient and real-time data handling without sacrificing privacy. It’s about making advertising smarter, more transparent, and ultimately, more effective. Schwaber left us with a challenge: adapt and thrive in this changing landscape or get left behind.


So, next time you’re sipping that subpar conference coffee, or waiting for that analyst to write the code needed to extract insights from last month’s data, heed Schwaber’s advice and get ready to embrace the future of advertising.

While you're at it, check out SCUBA to future-proof your data game.

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