Answering A Squirrelly Question: ‘What Is PII?’

Marketer’s Note” is a regular column informing marketers about the rapidly evolving, digital marketing technology ecosystem. This week it is written by Lizzie Komar, Associate Analyst, AdExchanger Research.  

I am thrilled to announce that AdExchanger Research’s report, “Define PII Today to Prepare for the Privacy Demands of the Future,” is available for purchase on our siteas of Wednesday.

This was easily one of the most elusive research projects I’ve worked on as an analyst. And this is why: Defining PII is nearly impossible. When we began discussing the research, Joanna and I hoped this report would live as a reference point for marketers who needed a cut-and-dry definition of PII. How naive we were. Given the complexity of marketing today (thanks to consumers’ uber connectivity, their expectations from us and the proliferation of connected devices), defining something so amorphous and so subject to change quickly revealed itself as overly reductive. Thus, the report transformed into much more.

Don’t worry – we do define PII in the piece and urge marketers to adopt the definition we set forth. It’s a conservative one, which I believe is essential due to a number of micro and macro trends affecting consumer privacy. It really comes down to this: A liberal definition of PII that fails to acknowledge the possibility of individual re-identification through technologies or through data-sharing practices will create trouble. Thus, we define PII as: any available data element about an individual that can be used alone or when combined with any other available data element to reasonably identify said individual.

In this report, you’ll also find:

  • A brief history of consumer privacy in the United States and Europe
  • A definition of PII constructed specifically with the marketer in mind
  • An explanation of the contentious climate surrounding consumer data and privacy
  • Essential recommendations for marketers on modernizing privacy practices and philosophy

I’ll likely write more about privacy in the coming months as this topic must be addressed by marketers, agencies, publishers and technology providers alike. If I’ve learned anything from this research it’s that having organization that protects and respects consumer privacy is only going to become more important. In fact, it will become the major battleground on which companies that fail to protect it will perish.

I hope you enjoy reading the report as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. Feel free to email me at with any questions or comments about the research once you’ve read it.


Follow Lizzie Komar (@LizzieKomar) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter. 

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