Eventprofs: Do You Know Who Owns Your Virtual Attendee Data?

Event data has become an important topic over the past few months as events migrated online and more attendee data could be collected and stored than ever before. This massive shift to digital happened quickly, and most eventprofs were thrown into the virtual world without much prior experience with it.

As a result, there has been a huge oversight within the industry when it comes to event data. Event organizers — already overwhelmed by the sudden pivot to virtual — didn’t necessarily read the fine print or ask questions regarding event data when partnering with virtual platforms, and many have unknowingly given up control of their attendee data.

As this issue is starting to come to light, prompted by a recent session at the UFI European conference 2021, event organizers are now discovering what’s really going on behind the scenes and are less than pleased. XLIVE has learned that several major event companies have begun rethinking partnerships with prominent platforms due to their data policies and are more deliberately considering how they will handle data moving forward.

It’s critical that eventprofs know exactly what platforms will be doing with their user data in order to make informed decisions and protect their relationship with their audience.

Breaking Down Platform Policies

There are essentially two camps of virtual platforms when it comes to data policies — those that control data, and those that leave the control in the hands of the organizers.

As more event organizers become aware of data collection issues, data policies are becoming a competitive advantage for platforms that allow organizers to retain control of their attendee data. ExpoPlatform, for example, has been highlighting this aspect of its policy to differentiate its platform in a crowded market.

While platforms’ collection of attendee data has some benefits for attendees, such as enabling them to use the same login across events on the same platform, it is ultimately not in organizers’ best interest.

“Customer Data is a major strategic asset for Event Organizers and forms the foundation of having a direct and exclusive relationship with their event participants,” explains Tim Groot, CEO and Founder of Grip, which does not control attendee data. “Giving up even part of this ownership holds significant risk and could result in a situation similar to the reliance of Publishers on Facebook and Google, having to pay to reach their own audiences with content having become a commodity.”

Groot warns that the same thing could happen within the event industry if organizers aren’t careful, with events becoming a commodity and “the majority of the value being captured by technology platforms as opposed to independent commercial organizers.”

By contrast, he notes, “we see ourselves as the Shopify for events, providing Organizers with the tools to build, grow and monetize their own audiences more successfully.”

This helpful graphic created by ExpoPlatform provides a more detailed look at various data policies and illustrates the differences between the two camps:

Chart of event platform data policies

In its privacy policy, Hopin clearly distinguishes between Event Content and Attendee Data, noting that the organizer/customer is the controller of the former, but that “both Customer and Hopin are Controllers of Attendee Data.” Brella, another platform, also notes that it is a joint controller of data along with the organizer. This type of policy is unfortunately a lot more common than many event organizers know.

Promoting events to users, as indicated in the last row of the above graphic, is particularly problematic, as it allows them to leverage attendee data to promote competing events on their platforms. By only allowing users to delete their accounts, they are creating a direct relationship with attendees that excludes the organizer.

On the other hand, Kickback Space, a new virtual platform that will be launching later this year, is taking the same approach as ExpoPlatform and Grip in protecting the organizer and attendee relationship. “The goal is to make it as easy as possible for the organizer to do what they want with their attendee's information,” says Rocco Haro, Owner of Kickback.

He currently plans to enable organizers to remove data from the platform themselves with a simple click of a button, and the company’s website very clearly states, “Our business model is dependent on providing you the best experience; we will never sell your information.”

Similarly, Aventri's privacy policy makes it clear that "...Personal Information is controlled by the Client, and Aventri only collects and processes it at the Client’s direction, in accordance with instructions provided by the Client, including applicable terms in any Client Agreement. With respect to this type of information, Aventri is a processor, and Client is the controller." 

Reading the fine print is key.

Organizers Will Become More Discerning

One of the biggest issues with this data collection by platforms is that many did not make their policies explicitly clear to organizers — and, again, many organizers did not know it was something to check for.  This news is now coming as a big surprise, which shouldn’t have been the case.

Magdalena Bonnelly, Founder and CEO of Event Strategies, echoes the sentiment of many other planners: “I was not aware that different platforms have different policies when it comes to collecting attendee data, but it will definitely be something that I consider from now on,” she says. “So far, it had not been brought to my attention that virtual platforms may be collecting attendee data.

“Since the choice of platform is not in the attendees’ control, I feel that the responsibility to protect information rests on event organizers. It is unacceptable for platforms to collect any identifiable information other than the info of the event organizer who has an active contract with the platform.”

As eventprofs become more accustomed to virtual tech and how to run events online, data policies will not — and should not — fly under their radar for much longer. As a starting point, Grip’s data ownership checklist includes key questions to ask event platforms to ensure everybody is on the same page regarding data policies. This should be an indispensable step in sourcing platforms for virtual and hybrid events moving forward if event organizers hope to retain control over valuable data in the digital age.