In the Age of AI, Publishers Need Authenticated Audiences

The Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today's column is written by Manny Puentes, founder and CEO at Rebel AI.

Though Facebook has only recently come under fire for fake user profiles on its platform, the problem of fake profile data has long plagued programmatic media trading.

Lotame, for example, recently purged more than 400 million user profiles after identifying them as bots. The problem is so profound in programmatic that some research has even shown that targeting users at random was just as effective as targeting using third-party data segments.

But data fraud is just as big of a problem for publishers as it is for advertisers. Today, the value of publisher audiences in bidding algorithms is increasingly defined by data, and bad data potentially is driving down the price of their inventory.

How does this happen? Ad fraud networks frequently create bots that mimic real users, and those bots are programmed to visit a site like nytimes.com to increase the value of their cookie or data. The publishers visited by a bot become part of the bot’s “user” profile, but because the bot isn’t real and won’t convert into a sale, depending on sophistication, the value of nytimes.com and the other associated publishers used to create the fake profile drops in algorithmic trading.

This is why it’s imperative that publishers, as much as advertisers, push for more standards and authentication around their audience data.

Much of the problem for both advertisers and publishers comes from the fact that, in today’s data-driven world, anyone can fire a pixel via HTML or JavaScript in a browser or standalone program. Ad platforms and data management platforms both ingest the cookie and its pixel data and use it to target their creatives with little attention paid to the provenance of the data contained in the cookie or ad ID.

As data becomes more of a currency and begins to be regulated more stringently, industry trade groups need to start focusing on standards around data ingestion, with a focus on the accuracy and authenticity of the data. While I’m not aware of a company currently providing this service, publishers can help push forward this kind of initiative by working with data providers and collectors to push measures that require data pixels to be digitally signed or verifiedwhile also controlling who is authorized to collect data from their sites. Stricter data controls and standards also will help publishers combat data leakage and protect long-term publisher value.

Creating a working group within the IAB around data verification standards would help advance some of the techniques and engineering needed to solve this complex problem. For example, having JavaScript pull the location field in the browser and appending it to the URL or adding it to HTTP headers isn’t good enough anymore to determine provenance. We should be working with browser vendors to propose a standard that will facilitate the authenticity of the data. This would allow downstream platforms using the data generated from a page load to only apply data to segments that have been verified and reconciled.

As the technology matures, blockchain also has a role to play in data authenticity by establishing an immutable identity for consumers and publishers alike, while providing ledgers that can prove the origin of data and its association with a particular publisher and real site visitor at the consumer level. Publishers need to get involved with working groups and advocate for change in an industry that has multiple influential stakeholders.

Authentic identity will define the future of digital advertising. As the upcoming General Data Protection Regulation puts more onus on companies to understand identity and give consumers controls over that identity, the industry needs to be united in creating the data security framework that will define the next generation of media trading. Publishers in particular have an important role to play in establishing the standards that will define their value in an automated world.

Follow Manny Puentes (@epuentes), Rebel AI (@Rebel_AI_) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

 

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