“The Sell-Sider” is a column written by the sell-side of the digital media community.
Today’s column is written by Jim Spanfeller, CEO, Spanfeller Media Group, a new age media company.
Mozilla recently announced that the next version of Firefox, one of the most popular web browsers in the world, would come with a default setting that would not allow third-party tracking cookies to be installed on users’ machines.
This is the first major step down a road to a better tomorrow for business online, to an age where consumer privacy and corporate transparency is respected and practiced. By doing what we say and saying what we do - by doing unto others what we want done to us - we will enter into a more trusted ecosystem. Business, information exchange, spontaneous discovery and overall satisfaction will thrive in ways that have become increasingly difficult due to black hat activities perpetrated partly in the name of advertising efficiencies.
The IAB has jumped to protect the currently crippled state of the industry by protesting Mozilla’s move. As a one-time chairman of the organization, this saddens me to no end. I feel this way for several reasons.
First, the current promise of ultra-targeted audiences delivered in massively efficient ways is proving to be one of the more empty statements in recent memory. Every day more data shows that what is supposed to be happening is far from reality. Ad impressions are not actually in view, targeting data is, on average, 50% inaccurate by some measures (even for characteristics like gender) and, all too often, the use of inferred targeting while solving for low-cost clicks produces cancerous placements for the marketer. At the end of the day, the three most important players in the ecosystem – the visitor, the content creator and the marketer - are all severely impaired, or even negatively impacted, by these practices.
Second, the notion that moving toward a more user-controlled, privacy-friendly environment will somehow kill advertising is flat-out ridiculous. Advertising works. Advertising online works. And more people are spending more time in digital media environments than ever before. Marketers need to find ways to communicate with prospective consumers. What’s more, there are numerous first-party and contextual methods that allow for ultra-targeting with data and inference that are exponentially better than what the IAB is trying so hard to protect.
Third, and perhaps most important, we need to respect all the citizens of the digital ecosystem. If folks intentionally want to share data about themselves, or for that matter, about their organizations, because they see real value in that exchange…then great. But simply assuming that this is what’s best for the participant is the very height of hubris. I found myself arguing this very point at an industry event a few years ago with a group of smart and successful executives from various ad tech companies. This event was just before Thanksgiving and as the argument reached new heights, I finally said, “Hey, I will tell you what, we are all going to be with close friends and family over the next few days. Why don’t you sit down with a couple of people who you know well and really explain what the issue is? Ask them how they feel about being tracked without their knowledge.” As you might expect, this effectively ended the discussion.
The web grew out of a sense of empowerment for all. We need to get back to that thought process. By doing so, the vast majority of involved parties will be extremely well served, and those who are not will quickly find other avenues to dedicate their talents to and, subsequently, will most likely feel better about themselves.
The IAB has a diverse membership, to be sure, and has done very valuable service for the online world in the past, including leading the charge in setting standards to conduct business by. But taking a stand to protect a relatively small percentage of that membership is not the way to showcase leadership for the overall organization, nor the industry as a whole.
I applaud the leaders of Mozilla and I hope others will follow their example.