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Policy / DCN perspectives on policy, law, and legislative news surrounding digital content

Ad Tech: Is opting-out the only way to change things?

August 13, 2015 | By Chris Pedigo, SVP Government Affairs – DCN @Pedigo_Chris

Joanna O’Connell had an interesting reaction to news that a few young publishers have decided to spurn ad tech. Without a doubt, the ad tech space is full of promise – new capabilities, greater efficiencies and deeper audience insights. But, I think Joanna is missing the underlying concerns that publishers have with ad tech and why it feels like we’re reaching a breaking point.

Premium publishers are trying to create a premium experience for consumers: one that is clean, well-lit and where they will visit often and engage for the long-term. Part of creating this premium experience is ensuring that consumers feel safe and that they can trust the environment. One factor that impacts consumer trust is understanding when and why data about them and their online behavior is collected – a fairly significant challenge for publishers to fully understand themselves.

It may seem as if understanding how all of their third party partners are collecting and using data about audiences that visit their sites should be easy, especially when data collection and use restrictions can be baked into contracts. But, contracts only go so far. Some third parties have take-it-or-leave-it terms of use, others are simple start-ups that don’t operate on contracts at all, and some third parties reject any limitations out of hand. There’s also the huge challenge of trying to enforce the terms of a contract down the daisy chain of all of the third parties… and their third parties. It begins to feel like a never ending game of whack-a-mole!

Here at DCN, we’ve written a lot about trust in the last 12 months: Trust between advertisers and publishers. Trust between advertisers and consumers. Trust between publishers and audiences. There is increasing and overwhelming evidence that these relationships are under great strain. Advertisers are understandably outraged that large percentages of their ad campaigns are being “seen” by non-human traffic. Consumers continue to turn on DNT signals, increasingly turning to blunt tools like ad blocking software.  And this problem is only on the rise. Just this week,  it was reported that Ad blocking grew by 41% globally in the last 12 months meaning that there a whopping 198 million active adblock users around the world.

We couldn’t agree more with Joanna’s point that, at their best, “ad technologies are tools that can make buying and selling smarter, faster and better.” So yes, we agree with Joanna that programmatic is a fast-moving rocket that digital companies are and should be jumping on. But her qualifier – “if used effectively” – is the crucial point. What does “using effectively” entail? We can’t afford to be blind to the impact of “ineffective use” by third parties. We need to keep our focus on the health of larger digital marketing landscape.

The technologies that underpin the digital delivery of content—from publishers or marketers—must behave transparently and ethically and strive to enhance the customer experience or we will lose the audiences we value most. For the internet to function at its full potential, all of these parties need a foundation of trust built on transparency, choice and fair exchange of value.