Near, an AI startup that tracks consumer behaviour online and offline will use its latest funding round – US$100 million raised in July – to expand beyond its core marketing services. The company wants to apply its tracking and data enriching platform to new industries to help incumbents handle disruption through data analysis.

And despite relying on an ability to track consumers to marry online and offline data in order to build profiles, Near insists data regulation like GDPR is welcome. In fact it claims its “privacy by design” approach gives it a leg up over advertising giants Facebook and Google.

Near’s core product is a cloud platform named Allspark, which it claims gives marketers access to “advanced audience curation” by using artificial intelligence to track the behaviour of 1.6 billion users.

The data typically comes from users phones or tablets but the explosion of wearables and the IoT ecosystem has only added to the data amount and increased location accuracy, according to Near co-founder Shobhit Shukla.

Shukla explained that the company starts with basics like where a consumer lives and works but then adds places they visit like coffee shops or retail outlets. When combined with online data it gives marketers a better “real world” understanding of consumers.

How it works

“Historically, if you look at the marketing and the advertising ecosystem, the understanding of consumers was primarily driven by the kind of content that they consume,” Shukla told Which-50.

Shukla says the approach has served marketers well, but it also fails to capture the full perspective of consumer behaviour and can’t always accurately place them in the funnel. 

His example demonstrating Near’s advantage is potential car buyers. People engaging with online content about a new car may indeed be a potential customer but marketers will have more success if they know which ones are actually going to a car dealership.

Near’s Allspark platform. Supplied.

One of Near’s Australian fast food clients used the platform to target consumers as part of a new breakfast promotion. Shukla says they were able to target consumers who stop for breakfast on their commutes down to specific suburbs and stores, identifying a new “captive audience”.

Privacy protections

The capability creates an obvious tension with individual privacy, and Shukla concedes, generally, most consumers don’t understand the amount they are tracked. He does argue, however, that awareness is increasing and there is value for consumers in the data exchange.

The Near co-founder insists the company is GDPR compliant and “ahead of the curve” on privacy. He said all consumers they track have given permission to use their data and they’re upfront about how Near will use the data – a requirement of the EU regime.

Near cofounder Shobhit Shukla. Supplied.

He also says Near’s architecture allows all consumers’ data to be purged if consumers decide to opt out at a later point.

Near customers can also add their own data to the platform to improve insights. Typically this occurs with larger enterprise customers, Shukla says, and Near will vet the external data for compliance.

In certain markets there are restrictions on how the platform can be used. Certain data can’t be added and segments have a minimum number of consumers to avoid identification of individuals or groups.

While Australia, which has relatively loose privacy laws for data collection and processing, doesn’t have such restrictions, the platform still operates here at GDPR levels of privacy because that’s how it was designed, Shukla said.

Next step

The Allspark platform is profitable and business is growing, Shukla said. Investors seem to agree. Near raised an additional $100 million in July.

Shukla said the capital will be used to expand further into new markets, including Australia, but the company will also be investing in research and development, and launching a new product, Carbon.

The new product, currently in beta uses the same Near data from Allspark to enrich customers existing customer data, rather than just pulling insights.

Being able to enrich data opens up Near’s markets to many more industries, Shukla says, and the company has eyed incumbents bracing for disruption.

“I think this [marketing industry] is data driven and it was easy for us to penetrate and commercialise with data in this industry,” Shukla said.

“But over the next five to ten years we think the real opportunity will be in industries such as retail, banking, financial services, transportation, and smart cities, to use data to handle disruption. 

“All these industries are going through a tremendous amount of disruption … A lot of things are going to change and what we are looking to do is enable some of these incumbents who have been very traditional to use data to handle this disruption, to cope with this disruption.”

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