3 Key Factors in Improving AdTech Transparency

The question on every adtech player’s mind lately has been, “what will it take to create a truly fair, open marketplace?”

The emergence of GDPR and CCPA have, in a way, awoken the industry to just how bad trust within the ecosystem has become. One of the most recent surveys shows that only a very small fraction of people have a good understanding of what happens to their data. Clearly, despite the recent improvements in transparency, we still have a long way to go.

So what do the experts currently have to say about this issue? Three topics have emerged which need to be addressed to increase trust and transparency: consumer opt-in consent, brand safety, and data safety. We’re going to explore those matters a little more below.

Consumer Opt-In Consent

Consumer consent is largely at the heart of B2C trust issues. When users do not know where their data is going, or worse, are not aware their data is being collected in the first place, that’s when frustration and reluctance to future consent begin. The feeling of being indirectly lied to and having data collected in sneaky ways is not something anyone wants to experience.

Additionally, terms of service are oftentimes dozens of pages long, ambiguous, very densely written, and are not easily understandable to the average person. As a result, these platforms have made the easiest way to the user’s desired content as quickly clicking the giant “ACCEPT” button, rather than the subtle “no thanks” option.

For a long time, users were being led to believe that the content they consume is free.

Now that advertisements are emerging in larger numbers and becoming more conspicuous, the population is realizing that data collection was the price all along. The solution to this issue is seemingly obvious. Clearly communicating with users to make sure they understand their options is a good way to generate greater trust. Simply put, the user can either pay the content price with money, or pay using their data that will then be monetized by the publisher.

Moving forward, it may become the responsibility of the agencies to educate their brand partners on data and the traceability of consent. Unless someone steps up to lead the charge, real change may be difficult to achieve.

Brand Safety

The term ‘brand safety’ seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue this past year. Many brands are taking steps towards being more careful with whom they work, as well as advertisers using aggregated, anonymous user data to collect their information.

What we’re aiming for is something Andy Sruibas, Chief Commerical Officer of OUTFRONT Media refers to as, “privacy by design.” This means creating systems from the ground up that begin with security at the forefront, and continue to protect the user’s privacy throughout the advertising process. Sruibas states, “we think we can be just as effective … and have a substantial lift in value by taking advantage of a very transparent system where privacy is protected.”

Just as you’d expect, transparency means something different to the consumer than it does to the brand. While the consumer is concerned with the value of their data, the brand is more concerned with safety, placement, and value. Until these two viewpoints can align and cooperate, transparency may be just out of reach.

Data Safety

Similar to brand safety, data safety has also been a popular topic of discussion. The two are inextricably linked, yet the data side is often under-discussed. The whole industry wants more data, but if a brand does not know how the data has been collected, it may be potentially toxic and pose a risk for brand damage. The challenge is knowing the data they’re leveraging has been properly collected, consented to by the user, and is ultimately trustworthy. The occasional user may not be worried about data collection as long as the content they are consuming is good and their targeted ads are tailored to their wants and needs. However, it is clear that the majority of people do care about their data collection, which in turn means that the industry also has to care. For companies that are worried about the potential revenue loss that comes with distributing improperly collected data, there may be a silver lining. With the direction in which the industry is moving, verified data could be monetized for a higher price than that of its potentially unsafe counterpart. Being able to label data as brand-safe will set a standard for businesses that will be willing to pay more for the security of verified data collection.

When consumers universally begin to recognize the value of their data, a new business model could emerge.

Airo.Life is an excellent example of such a new business model. The company provides its customers with a free smartphone and data plan at no cost while personalizing their ad experience and providing tailored content around their interests.

In reference to this idea, Sruibas says, “If [the consumer] can understand what that value is and create an exchange … you can trade that data and brands will pay you for access.” A very educated consumer base is required to execute such a plan, which is perhaps what needs to happen next.

In the end, the process of consenting to exchange verified data needs to be simplified. Displaying a plain list of what information is being collected on consent forms (location, name, address) is a good start to the evolution. Small changes such as this could potentially be a huge difference in the attitudes of hesitant consumers.

What isn’t working?

So why is the adtech industry still in this transparency rut despite the ideas above? It’s simple: change requires collaboration. Brands have the power to take a stand and refuse to advertise to non-consenting users, but the open internet is not as easy to organize for collective change as a walled garden is, for example.

Hundreds of thousands of websites and the whole adtech industry have to come together and ​make one decision,​ which is not an easy thing to accomplish.

How do we create positive change?

With all the issues emerging from the transparency discussion, it leaves us wondering, what can we do to push things in the right direction? In order for the all-important collaboration to take place, experts agree that education must happen first. That applies to consumers, buyers, publishers, exchange partners, etc. knowing how the system works and how their role relates to the rest of the participants.

Simply put, if everyone understood what they were purchasing and had a thorough understanding of the value chain, things could start to improve. Unless each player is taking responsibility for what is happening in the industry, that can’t happen. Of course, it will take time to educate the entire market, and there will be roadblocks along the way; but once user-consented verified data is the new normal, a shift in the industry can finally take place.

Final Thoughts

Consider the question, similar to that of the one we asked at the start, “whose responsibility is it to create a fair and open marketplace?” The simple answer is, everyone. If the ideals and practices of a truly transparent industry are built into the framework at the beginning of every exchange, those ideals can then branch out to the rest of the ecosystem and take effect. Sometimes, that means beginning with the leaders. When those individuals in higher positions set an example for what it means to conduct a trustworthy business, the whole company can learn from their direction.

So continue to ask yourself how you can be a better partner, and how you can help evolve adtech business models. With any luck, industry-wide education will create mass collaboration, which can then act as a catalyst for true and lasting transparency.

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