Julia Shullman, Telly: “Rearchitect the ecosystem”

“Rearchitect the ecosystem”

The increasing focus on data privacy has led to significant changes in the digital ecosystem. Companies are re-evaluating their approaches to data collection, sharing, and user transparency in response to heightened consumer awareness and regulatory developments. As technology continues to evolve, the complexities of the digital ecosystem require a rethinking of how data is handled while ensuring user choice, transparency, and security. It's evident that embracing privacy is crucial for the future development of the digital landscape.

In the latest episode of our Identity Architects podcast, InfoSum's Chief Operating Officer, Lauren Wetzel, sat down with Julia Shullman, General Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer at Telly, to discuss data privacy, consumer choice, transparency, and more.

“Some of the big tentpole moments were - not to pick on Facebook - but when Facebook kind of ran up against some of those hurdles at this point 2016/2017 when the press really started digging in on some of the data sharing practices and some of the kind of foot faults they made around inaccurate disclosures to users and, frankly, doing things that users just didn't expect was happening.”

Since then, consumers' awareness of what’s happening with their data has increased exponentially. That’s not just because journalists cover these stories and new regulations are introduced, but also because of organizations such as Mozilla and Apple, which were among the first to put privacy at the core. 

“Up until Mozilla and Apple started removing signal from browsers and started actually removing identifiers in mobile applications, everything privacy-related was what I would call band-aid. So it was a contract, it was a code of conduct that a company swore on the honor that they actually adhered to, but as Mozilla and Apple, and now Google actually started removing access to the identifiers that companies in the ecosystem use to identify a device or a user and with that started removing access to data that is connected with those identifiers, that's not a compliance issue. That is a fundamental core strategic issue for everyone in the ad digital ecosystem.”

In addition to these changes, the ecosystem has become more complex throughout the years, with new technologies and trends emerging while privacy has become more important than ever.

“The digital ecosystem is fundamentally all about interacting. A company interacting with their users or with their user base, and so at a fundamental level, that means that they are interacting with people, and so there is personal data involved. And in order to interact with people, even if it's at a very basic level, you need to be collecting, using, and sharing personal data in some way. [...] It has become more complex as companies look to interact with consumers across all of these different devices and then it's also become more complex and more sophisticated as technology has evolved and companies have learned how to connect those devices and also learned how to connect data that is collected and used in different ways. [..] The ability for a company to be able to operate in the digital ecosystem is to continue to be able to access some of that data and actually interact with their consumers and measure how well they do.”

But for that to happen, we need to fix the privacy issue because, as Julia says: 

“Privacy is broken, and it is connected to the way privacy and the digital ecosystem have evolved over time. [...] The industry [...], despite certain efforts, has always stayed a couple of steps behind [...]. We haven't really gotten out ahead of how to explain what we're doing to users, how to give them the right choice, and, more importantly, how to more efficiently and more securely enable access to data and enable sharing of data. [...] We've sort of operated the way we always operated in sort of a spray of data across the ecosystem when we're trying to serve an ad or measure an ad. We didn't get user choice. We didn't get transparency and we never educated the consumer in the right way, and so we're just playing whack-a-mole as regulators are getting more and more frustrated about how the ecosystem is operated.”

It is crucial to involve the consumer, educate them, and be as transparent as possible about how their data is being used - all while protecting that data at all costs. In the end, it’s all about giving the consumer the choice of what happens with their data.

“There are people who say consumer choice is dead, and consumers don't know what they're agreeing to, and there's no way to give them that choice. I don't agree with that. I think if you can really tell a clean, simple, straightforward narrative about what you're doing and be very clear about the choice associated with your products and services, that is the future, and honestly, I just think we're all clawing our way back across the ecosystem, from not doing a very good job of that.”

So true. It’s all about looking forward and creating a better future for the ecosystem.

“If we could rearchitect the ecosystem, so to speak, and actually provide pipes that enable companies to allow another company to run a job against their data to match data to do everything that we need to do without actually spraying it and moving it across the ecosystem. It's more efficient. It actually allows all of us to control what happens to that data from a technical perspective, and then when you put those consumer controls and the transparency on top of it, you can actually do what you're telling a consumer you want to do and you can give them the choice that you want to give them, when today a lot of times when a user comes to you and says I want to delete my data access, it's nearly technically impossible to comply with that request because the pipes that underlie the ecosystem don't enable it efficiently or frankly at all many times.”

Speaking of creating a better future and giving the consumer the choice, Telly is doing exactly that, and it’s a fascinating business model.

“What we're doing at our core is we are developing, manufacturing, and distributing direct to consumers a high-end TV. And the difference is threefold. One, we do not charge for the TV. Instead, we have what we call a transparent value exchange between user and us, that is very clear that we are powering the device through ads, and in order to do that, we need to collect, use, and share certain data. And we try to be very transparent about it. We talk about how we developed that. And the second piece is we actually have the second screen, and that's more of a user experience thing, where we said people are sitting in front of their TVs with their phones and 14 other devices. Let's actually have another device that's attached to the TV, and users don't have to sit there on their phone. They can do a whole lot of the things that they might be doing on a second screen on the device, and at the same time, we're going to show them relevant ads. [...] And obviously, from my perspective, starting out fundamentally at a business that its core has privacy as a key pillar of its strategy, and building from the start, you know, the right practices, the right policies, the right disclosures has been such a treat because normally I come in a little bit late and sort of have to unwind things at certain companies.”

It’s amazing to see such new and innovative business models with privacy integrated at their core. But for all those companies that are currently realizing that privacy is actually good for business, Julia shared some advice: 

“Take the time to understand the commercial and strategic incentives and the ecosystem, understand what that means for privacy and for compliance and access to data and really look at privacy through that lens, and then the second one is just get the right teams kind of rowing together and working together like the jig is up on you know, asking a lawyer or you know asking for someone to provide an opinion on something totally last minute after you've fully baked a product and want to take it out into the market. Get people involved early. They'll be strategic, and they'll be able to get you to the right place and really understand you know how to build something right and lasting.”

Thanks, Julia, for the chat!