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Research reveals that ad tech is reducing reader trust

December 13, 2018 | By Rande Price, Research Director—DCN @Randeloo

Advertising is a fundamental part of news publishers’ revenue model. Within the digital advertising marketplace, programmatic and advertising technology are a large part of ecosystem. According to eMarketer, more than four of every five US digital display ad dollars is a programmatic transaction. Simply defined, programmatic is the automation of the buying and selling of desktop display advertising using real-time-bidding. Included in the programmatic is the usage of ad tech to collect and aggregate user data. A new research report, Guide to Advertising Technology from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, looks into programmatic advertising and the influence of ad tech on the practice, distribution, and perception of journalism.

User experience

The Tow report suggests that news publishers’ reliance on ad tech for user data is threatening both a positive user experience and trust in a news brand. News sites. like other sites, collect user data and tracking codes to offer advertisers targeting campaigns. The data is collected by the ads’ tracking cookies (i.e., Javascript and HTML code) and embedded inside ads. Digital ads also send data to and receive instructions from thousands of servers. The data embedded within these ads creates a heavy load on web browsers, often slowing down the site and negatively impacting the user experience.

Further, even though publishers require that ads on their sites contain no malware, the current ad tech setup can serve malicious codes to reader often compromising user security and privacy.

Social media fallout

The report also examines the impact of the plethora of user data collected by social media platforms on the advertising ecosystem. Unfortunately, publishers cannot compete with the unprecedented ability of Google and Facebook to collect data and in order to provide the same level of targeting opportunities and offerings. And, as stated above, publishers’ drive to collect more consumer data may have the undesired effect of negatively impacting their experience.

The exploit of fake news on social media has also had a significant impact on impacts news publishers. Of specific consequence is Facebook’s change to its News Feed algorithm, which de-prioritizing news articles and content from media brands in favor of content shared by friends and families. Unfortunately, as consumers are exposed to less trustworthy content, their overall sentiment around content being trustworthy declines.

Digital filter bubbles are also a concern as search engines and social media algorithmically tailor content recommendations according to a user’s consumption histories. The research found that this can get to the point that the users are only shown information that conforms with their preexisting biases. Thus, data collection – in the name of better targeting information – may actually lead to less-informed readers.

Advertising still fuels the media economy. That’s why it’s important for media professionals to understand the advertising infrastructural and the role ad technology plays in digital media today. We must keep a close watch on advertising technologies, data collection, digital delivery and continue to weigh their impact on the reader experience and our ability to deliver the news they need.

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