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Former Xandr CEO Brian Lesser joins start-up building data 'bunkers' to preserve online privacy

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Brian Lesser

Adam Galica | CNBC

Former AT&T executive Brian Lesser, who resigned from his role as CEO of the company’s advertising unit Xandr earlier this year, has been named executive chairman of data start-up InfoSum. Lesser first joined InfoSum’s board in April. 

Lesser is a longtime advertising industry executive who, before leading Xandr, was chief executive of WPP’s media agency arm GroupM North America. Previously, he’d been global CEO at programmatic company Xaxis. 

InfoSum helps marketers, publishers and other players match up consumer data in a way that’s meant to better preserve their privacy. The company announced Tuesday it had raised $15.1 million in Series A funding and had hired Lesser in the leadership role to expand globally, with a focus in North America. Xandr agreed to invest in InfoSum before Lesser left.

“The data industry, the way companies share customer data, is pretty well established,” Lesser told CNBC. “But it’s a legacy technology infrastructure.” 

Lesser said if a publisher wants to work with a partner to run ads, for example, both companies would often need to send consumer data to a third party to anonymize it, match data up to some kind of cookie or email address, then send that data back.

But Lesser said this process can also lead to potential breaches of consumer data or other misuse. These methods are also likely to become outdated as new privacy regulations and other industry changes continue, like Google’s decision to abandon third-party cookies and Apple’s privacy tweaks that are coming in iOS 14 this fall.

InfoSum sets up a “bunker” inside a customer’s database, Lesser said, which lets a company connect data with partners without having to send the data around. “You now have effectively a match as to when you’re talking to the same customer, without ever having to share that personal information,” he said. 

The company’s customers include advertisers and marketers, publishers and agencies, and other intermediaries. CNN, ITV, Channel 4 and the Telegraph are clients.

The $15.1 million Series A was led by Upfront Ventures and IA Ventures. It was supported by Ascential, Akamai, Experian, ITV and Xandr, and will allow the InfoSum to invest in its product and platform and hire more U.S. employees. 

“My next step really is to use this as a catalyst to bring in a really great team,” Lesser said. “I think if I’m good at what I do you’ll see, over the next few months, [us] bringing in some great talent.” 

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