Thursday 24 May 2018

Steve Dempsey: Ads row as data destiny day looms

(stock photo)
(stock photo)
Steve Dempsey

Steve Dempsey

Europe's new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in 68 days. It will ensure greater control and protection for European citizens online. But it's also causing headaches for marketers who gather and use data relating to these citizens.

One unexpected area where it's causing turmoil is in relation to programmatic advertising. These are ads that are brought through real-time bidding on open exchanges, and they'll account for 67pc of global digital display ads this year, according to ZenithOptimedia. The problem is that such ads often use cookies to track users around the web. But under the GDPR, users will need to give advertisers permission to target them in this way. Thankfully, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) is on hand with a neat plan to protect programmatic advertising.

I say neat, but actually, like everything to do with programmatic advertising, it's byzantine in its complexity. The proposed framework allows publishers to capture user consent on behalf of advertisers, and will store that consent centrally. This is a pretty thorny task given the nature of programmatic advertising, where bids can come in from a constantly changing set of advertisers in real time. Publishers don't always know who's going to be bidding on their inventory.

So the IAB framework is a maze of interlocking players that go by three-letter acronyms like DMPs, CMPs, SSPs, and DSPs, which shoot information at one another in milliseconds. "We need to speak the same language," IAB Europe's director of privacy and policy, Matthias Matthiesen, says.

"The framework is that language. We're not imposing any particular implementation on publishers or third parties, but we're giving them a tool to communicate what happens through the supply chain using common data formats."

Who pays for all this? Vendors for the most part. The IAB just wants to cover its costs in running the system, and is proposing a nominal fee for signing up to a global vendor list and a fee of around €100 per month. There'll be no cost for publishers. And what about the poor user who just wants to read an online article? The fear is that the IAB framework will result in more pop-ups appearing every time you go online. Instead of asking about cookies, they'll ask you whether you want to share your data with each individual advertiser. "If you require ubiquitous consent, these consent requests will become annoying and meaningless. Unfortunately, a good user experience has thus far not been part of the law-making process."

The IAB insists that the Framework isn't a finished product. "We know that there'll have to be iterations," Matthiesen says. "We're pretty certain that as time progresses we'll learn more about what the law requires and we won't always have gotten it right. There'll be cases and regulatory practice and we'll have to adapt the framework to stay compliant with the most up to date legal thinking."

But not everyone is a fan of the IAB's draft network. Digital Content Next (DCN) is a trade association that represents the interests of high-quality digital publishers.

"The IAB GDPR Consent Framework should be considered a non-starter by all publishers as it fails on several levels and requires significant changes," DCN CEO Jason Kint has told members.

Kint believes that the framework has ad tech companies' fingerprints all over it. To date, the draft framework has been endorsed by a host of ad tech companies and no publishers. "The business model of these intermediaries has for many years relied on harvesting the data generated from advertiser and consumer relationships with our members' websites and apps," he said.

The DCN's concern is valid. There's every chance that the IAB's framework will protect the status quo of behaviourally-targeted advertising and surveillance capitalism.

Yes, that means creepy ads, but it also means crappy ads traded for next to nothing that are responsible for users' banner blindness. The framework also looks to add complexity and cost to an already overly complex and murky programmatic advertising ecosystem.

Ultimately, the GDPR puts publishers in a strong position. They are gatekeepers who can pick and mix the third party vendors they work with, and what user data is shared. They shouldn't pass up this opportunity to dictate some terms to other players in the programmatic advertising ecosystem.

If the spirit of GDPR is to be embraced and online advertising is to be in any way improved, publishers and ad tech companies will need more time to come to some agreement. But time is running out. Sixty-eight days and counting.

Sunday Indo Business

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