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Drive out the Data Barbarians, says UFI panel

Organisers have been asked if they are “seriously paying to let the barbarians in” amid an expert panel discussion over control of event data.

Five industry leaders took part in the latest UFI Connects session on Thursday, chaired by journalist Danica Tormohlen, giving their views on data control.

The debate came in response to a previous discussion at the 2021 UFI European Conference, which focussed on how virtual event platforms use the information they are collecting.

On Thursday, leaders from Tarsus Group, Clarion Events, RX Global, Informa Markets and Emerald all gave their views on the topic.

Douglas Emslie, group CEO of Tarsus Group, said the industry needs to “drive out the bad players” amid talks over platforms that take control of the information.

He said: “We should be very, very clear – the barbarians are at the gate.

“We do not know what these platforms are doing with this data.

“Are we seriously paying to let the barbarians in?

“Should we be worried? Absolutely, because we are one data breach away from a disaster for our industry.”

event data ufi panel

Douglas added: “Who owns that company today might not be the owner tomorrow and we don’t know what they’re going to do with that data tomorrow.”

Trust and responsibility were raised as crucial issues for organisers when it comes to how that information is looked after.

Charlie McCurdy told the panel that it was the customer who owns the information and they are giving organisers “consent” to use it.

The Informa Markets CEO added: “We are stewards or custodians of this data.”

Lisa Hannant highlighted that although there would be no legal repercussions if the information is not controlled by the organiser, there were still reputational issues.


The Clarion Events group MD said: “Being a data controller – whether us or an external party – comes with responsibility.

“If we are the data controllers it’s clearly important that there’s a strong awareness of what that means.”

On what it means when vendors control the data, she added: “The reputational risk does still remain with the organiser.”

Mark Brewster, Explori CEO, asked the panel whether it is “okay” for vendors to co-own identifiable customer data, to which Lisa replied: “No.”

She added: “The only way I can bring this down to its simplest terms is we don’t need to own the highway, but we do need to own our cars that are on the highway.

“That’s kind of the basic principle of which I think that we can start to think this through.”

Trust must be earned

The panellists highlighted the way that registration companies have earned the trust of organisers over the years, with InfoSalons’ Jo Anne Kelly commenting that “there should be an understanding of the difference between managing the data versus owning the data”.

Herve Sedky, Emerald CEO, described how organisers have a responsibility to protect the customer data which is “critical” to an “extraordinarily complex issue”.

Herve added: “Trust is earned and it’s earned over time – you don’t just ask for trust and get trust.

“In the realm of customer data we have to have this diligence.”

Hugh Jones, CEO of RX Global, described the industry as being at a crucial moment as more events take place in an online format.

He said: “It’s critical now more than ever that we as an industry come together and that we need to protect that data that’s entrusted to us to ensure our future in this area.”


The discussion comes after a rapid move towards digital platforms over the last year.

This move has created an explosion in attendee information and event data that is redefining the way organisers understand and shape the communities they serve.

However, not all event technology platforms handle this information in the same way.

An organiser-led model sees the organiser own the relationship with their customer as data controller, with the technology platform as the processor for the duration of the contract.

This information can be used for a single event or multiple events in a portfolio to make for a seamless journey.

In a vendor-led model, it is the platform that can own the direct relationship with your customers and share that data with other organisers.

What’s next?

It is clear the industry needs to come together to find a way through this, with the support of Associations such as UFI and the VSef data initiative playing key roles in the landscape of event data for the future.

ExpoPlatform’s manifesto for event data sets out in more detail the importance of organisers keeping control of the data, rather than giving it to platforms.

If you want to know who does what with your data, here is our quick summary of the data policies of the main event platforms.

There are two main approaches: the control of the data either stays with the organiser or the control goes to the vendor who can do as they wish, subject to applicable privacy regulations as is the case with every relationship:

Data policies of virtual event platforms