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How Data Regulations Will Affect Apartment Marketing in 2021 and Beyond

How Data Regulations Will Affect Apartment Marketing in 2021 and Beyond
March 16, 2021

People around the world are becoming more aware that their data is being leveraged, and not everyone is comfortable with that. Although data aggregation has been part of the internet experience since the genesis of Web 2.0, it hasn’t always been clear to users what info is being gathered and why. As more users have become aware of the prevalence of data aggregation, some have pushed for increased oversight governing how a person’s data can be used. As we anticipate the possibility of federal legislation to address these concerns as well as the likelihood of further platform changes like the various ad targeting changes implemented by Facebook and Google in 2019-2021, we can expect those changes to impact apartment marketing in 2021 and beyond.

Any website that offers a personalized experience leverages your data in some way, whether that data is your current browsing behavior, demographic information, or credit history. When sites gather your data through cookies or 3rd party data exchanges, the ultimate goal is typically to gain a holistic representation of who you are so that the site can improve the user experience, show you content you’re more likely to engage with, and ultimately profit off your attention in some way (consider, for example, retargeting ads for items you recently viewed on an ecommerce website).

Let’s pause to briefly lay out some definitions: Cookies are small files saved to your computer that record what websites you’ve been on, what you’ve clicked or viewed, and sometimes what passwords you’ve saved. Cookies allow a website to see where else you visited before you arrived at your current digital destination. Third party data exchanges are when one platform obtains your data from another platform in order to combine multiple sets of data to get a fuller picture of who you are and how you behave online. For example, Equifax might sell your data to Google so that Google knows how much money you make in addition to the information they already have about your search history.

How Rising Concerns Around Data Misuse Have Changed the Advertising Landscape

data aggregation for apartment marketing strategies

Although data aggregation is often relatively innocuous, there are ways in which it’s vulnerable to misuse. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which Cambridge Analytica purchased the data of millions of Facebook users without the users’ consent and used it to inform political campaigns, was for many the catalyzing event that set off a surge of concerns over data aggregation. “Who has my data, how much do they have, and why?” Many users wondered. “Who is protecting my data from misuse? And who is held responsible when misuse occurs?”

In the wake of this expanding concern, legislators have been pressed to address this situation with clear legislation restricting how data aggregation tactics like cookies and 3rd party data exchanges can be used. The CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) was the first example of a state legislating around data use. If you’re constantly being prompted to accept the use of cookies by sites you visit, that’s because of the CCPA, which has spotlighted cookie tracking in particular. Not only does the CCPA affect specifically Californian websites, it also has the potential to affect any website getting traffic from users in California, so more and more websites have rushed to cover their bases by adding these opt-in prompts.

The CCPA isn’t the only legal follow-up to the rise in data privacy concerns. Facebook also came under fire in 2019 because it allowed advertisers to use Facebook’s data aggregation to target ads in ways that violated the Fair Housing Act, leading the platform to establish restrictions on ad targeting capabilities specifically for housing, loan, and finance ads. Google soon followed suit, introducing new housing, loan, and finance categories in Google Ads and restricting the targeting capabilities of those ads.

The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) was also implemented by the EU in May 2018 with the aim of giving individuals more control over their personal data. It applies to any enterprise that is processing the data of a person inside the EU.

Apple was the next major platform to launch changes to its data use policy, implementing new requirements for apps in the App Store on devices running iOS 14. Apps that engage in data tracking through tools like the Facebook pixel or cookies must now prompt users to opt in to this data tracking. Only after a user has opted in may that app collect their data.

Additionally, Google announced in March 2021 that it would be phasing out 3rd party data tracking entirely for users browsing the internet on Chrome. Their new strategy is called FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), which adds users to various audience “cohorts” based on their browsing behaviors. Advertisers can then target their ads to cohorts, but cannot further refine their targeting on a user-by-user basis. We expect Google’s strategy to direct the rest of the industry, as many platforms will be taking their cues from this media giant. We can likely expect additional platforms to implement similar changes.

How Data Regulation Will Affect Apartment Marketing

the current landscape of data regulation and apartment marketing

Since the housing industry has already been the focus of certain early data use regulations, prompting the changes made by Facebook and Google in 2019 and 2020, apartment marketers are ahead of the curve somewhat when it comes to data regulation changes. However, more changes are likely coming, and it’s not entirely clear what they might be. Right now, it’s a waiting game to see how data regulations will be legislated and what further changes individual platforms like Facebook and Google may implement either in response to or independently of new regulations. It’s worth noting, however, that congressional committees have held hearings on data privacy, so a federal regulation of some kind is likely, we just don’t know what the specifics will be.

We also don’t yet know how 3rd party data or cookie tracking limitations will be reflected in advertising platforms if regulations are created to restrict them. It’s unknown whether these platforms will update their internal algorithms for ad targeting to reflect or counteract the new data restrictions, and if so, how they would do it. While Google and Facebook have already updated their policies around 3rd party data tracking, a federal regulation could require further updates from these platforms.

Still, there are preparations that can be made in anticipation of these potential outcomes. Many vendors are now planning ahead for the potential that cookie use will become restricted. Since cookies track your browsing behaviors across multiple websites, eliminating this element means the focus has to be on 1st party behavioral cues—what you’re doing right now on their website, including in-site searches. Vendors are also looking to rely more on 1st party data and less on 3rd party data.

Cookie removal would affect the platforms where many real estate marketing agencies conduct their advertising. Long-tail tracking will be more challenging, as will multi-session lead attribution. Single-session lead attribution, however, could still be tracked effectively.

lead tracking for apartments

Retargeting campaigns relying on 3rd party data tracking (e.g. targeting users who visited a property website) may become a thing of the past, depending on how data use is regulated in the future. Paid Search campaigns, however, will likely be unaffected, since they rely on current, 1st-party user search behavior, not on behaviors that have been tracked using a cookie.

Real estate marketers using advanced chatbots that use cookies to predict user needs (like what floor plans someone might be interested in, for example) should be aware that upcoming regulations may necessitate a downgrade to a less sophisticated chatbot. More immediately, you should ensure that your website prompts a user to accept the use of cookies, if you haven’t done so already. Otherwise you risk being sued by the state of California.

Rest assured that once we know more, we’ll cover it on ThreshNews. Check back for the latest in data regulation and how it’s impacting apartment marketing in 2021 and beyond.

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