If You Care About Security, Come to ZEDO

We have taken security very seriously lately on the ZEDO ad server. In fact, we have three major concerns for our customers and partners:

  1. resisting all the fraud, malware, and piracy problems that have plagued the industry since it began, and offering our customers a clean supply chain.
  2. Making sure our technologies load quickly and do not slow page load times for publisher partners
  3. Ascertaining the brand safety of the sites where our ZINC ads appear.

Every month we roll out technical updates that contribute to these goals.

This month:  for page load times, we are migrating to Gecko ad tags, to allow our publishers to run two of our innovative formats simultaneously .  Gecko is an ad serving tag that is designed to have seamless capability to serve different formats and innovations.  It can be configured to serve one or more ad formats per page view, such as a standard 300×250, a 728×90 InView panorama and an InArticle video for one tag call.

For brand safety, we have partnered with AmplifyReach.  We have started the process of categorizing Page URLs of various sites from our inventory pool into first level IAB categories. We also store brand safety score for each URL as identified by AmplifyReach.  We are learning every day how to make our inventory safer for advertisers.

We have added the capability to monetize secure sites. We saw that a number of publishers from our inventory pool going secure had increased lately, and if we get a request from a secure site, we send a secure flag in the BID request to all the DSPs. Because non-secure scripts cannot run on secure sites (the browser returns an error) this flag is important. By passing this flag DSPs know that they have to send down secure Ad Code if they bid and win.

We continue fighting the good fight to protect advertisers while increasing revenue for publishers. This has become a very complex endeavor, but advertisers are cutting the number of sites they will appear on and publishers have begun enforcing greater security as well. Vendors who cannot bring adequate security and brand safety to the table will be cut from both premium inventory and ads from quality brands.

For years we have been predicting that things in the digital advertising industry will improve so everybody gets better results, and we think this year it is finally happening. This will be good to everybody. The premium publishers will make more money, and the advertisers will get better results.

 

 

 

 

Outsourced Ad Ops Can Solve Publisher QA Issues

One of the reasons we have always offered ad operations to our publisher partners is because the publishers are so busy with other things. And the rise of programmatic buying and selling has made all of this more complicated and less transparent. As digital ad products get more complicated, they require more and more heavy lifting to make sure ads run as they are supposed to according to your own specs and industry standards. A new report from GeoEdge finds that some publishers’ ad ops teams are spending up to 40% of their time doing QA on creative.

In the old days, QA was only “does this ad really run.” But now, because of all the interest in brand safety,

quality assurance is really about risk management. The QA process entails getting detailed ad specs up front, clearly identifying stakeholders and responsibilities,  and effectively setting expectation for how an ad is supposed to work, whom it is meant to reach and actually meeting those expectations in order to insure a good user experience.

According to this report, part of the problem comes from conflicting priorities between the buyer (the agency) and the publisher. For the buyer, ad performance is the highest priority. But for the publisher, continued existence depends on monetization and optimization. Their goals are clearly misaligned.

Publishers ought to focus on their own needs, nor just follow whatever process the agency follows. And not spend so much time pursuing every new platform, to the detriment of QA. What good is it if you are on Snapchat if your ad doesn’t run the way it’s supposed to? Again, from GeoEdge, “the ad integrations that come with new platforms are more complex than publishers are accustomed to, making QA even more laborious.” Video and native ad executions are far more difficult than banner ads used to be. When a complex ad product changes hands among so many different teams, it’s easy for errors to slip through the cracks.

The highlight of this report for us was the experience of Forbes:

… who made a major advertising faux pas in 2016 when it released its 30 Under 30 list. Like most publishers starved for ad dollars, Forbes requested that those looking to view the list disable their ad blockers. Dutiful readers did just that only to open themselves up to malware ready to steal personal data, drain bank accounts and hold passwords hostage. With 56 million monthly unique visitors, this Forbes oversight was no small slip up.

But on our private platform, we can also do the ad operations, and with them, the QA. There is no danger, if you buy our ad formats and run them on our network, that malware can enter our closed system.

Admittedly GeoEdge is selling its automated verification solutions in this report, but the problems it identifies are real ones, and we’ve all been dealing with them in one way or another since advertising became digital.

 

Trends in Mobile Privacy

Mobile advertising has yet to come into its own, perhaps because advertisers are not yet sure what users will tolerate on a device actually held on the body.  Perhaps it seems more invasive because mobile advertising is capable of collecting information about users’ activities across different apps over time to deliver ads to those users based on those activities. It includes retargeting and tracking conversions,  and it may extend to any collection of information on one property to serve an ad on a different property. The data  collected is not tied to an identifiable individual but is tied to an individual device. And users are aware of being tracked across devices.

Lately, just about everyone is collecting user data for cross- device tracking, and users are not happy. The publisher collects user data from registrations and the use of the publisher’s app or site. Demand  and supply side platforms track users through their SDKs installs on the site, or receive user data from advertisers to calculate retargeting or fees. Advertisers also track user data, as do real time bidding (RTB) platforms, by which a user in a certain inventory is sold to the advertiser making the highest bid.

if this sounds awful to you, imagine how it sounds to the consumer who is being tracked for what is known as interest-based advertising. No wonder consumers opt out, forcing the FTC to make advertisers provide enhanced notice and choice.

In the mobile environment, the Digital Advertising Alliance and IAB Europe have determined to self- regulate. DAA has an opt out app that can be downloaded by consumers. There are also protections in mobile browsers to enable consumer choice. But in the EU  there are special considerations for apps and privacy.

The four key data protection risks in the EU include transparency consent, security,  and limitations on both purpose and amount of data that can be collected from an app. It is up to the consumer to control which data processing functions should be permitted: location data, contacts, credit card and payment data, browsing history.

A  company may use information collected across devices through cross device tracking software for content personalization,  interest based advertising,  fraud prevention and analytics.  In the US, opt outs are device specific but users must be provided with notice and a choice if they browsing activity on one device maybe used to deliver advertising to them on another device. In the EU, regulations are stricter: the privacy directive requires prior consent from the user for “storing for accessing information in the terminal equipment of the user.”

In the US, geolocation data can be collected only after the user is told that the data is being collected, and it may not overwrite consumer preferences. Although general geolocation derived from an IP address is not considered  “information”, it should still be disclosed in a privacy policy.

Snapchat and Path both fell afoul of this policy,  and Snapchat had to settle with the FTC over allegations that its Android app transmitted wifi and cell- based data location information from users mobile devices to its analytics tracking service provider in violation of its own privacy policy.

For that reason, although mobile marketing has many possibilities, it is wiser to leave the user in control of her own device marketing preferences.

 

New Law Threatens Privacy

Another marathon political month ends with the US going in the opposite direction regarding consumer data from the EU.  This could end up being confusing to both consumers and advertisers.

The US Senate has passed a bill saying that ISPs can now monetize consumer data in the same way Google and Facebook do. This bill is headed over to the House for a vote. On the face of it, the bill actually equalizes rights, giving ISPs the same rights as platforms. The FCC Chairman who replaced Tom Wheeler has defined this as  part of net neutrality, although that’s not what net neutrality used to be.

““The federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another — and certainly not when it comes to a marketplace as dynamic as the Internet,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen in a joint statement. The two agencies will work together to achieve “a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world,” they said. “Such a uniform approach is in the best interests of consumers and has a long track record of success.”

Several privacy advocate groups have, of course, come out against the new legislation, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Americans have enjoyed a legal right to privacy from your communications provider under Section 222 of the Telecommunications Act for more than twenty years. When Congress made that law, it had a straightforward vision in how it wanted the dominate communications network (at that time the telephone company) to treat your data, recognizing that you are forced to share personal information in order to utilize the service and did not have workable alternatives.

Now Congress has begun to reverse course by eliminating your communication privacy protections in order to open the door for the cable and telephone industry to aggressively monetize your personal information.

Of course the EFF is an advocacy organization, but privacy groups have become very powerful. And we care about this because anything that makes consumers feel uncertainty about their personal information has a propensity to interfere with the advertising business model most publishers depend on.

We work closely with the Online Trust Association, which also saw this as a potential blow to consumers, and thus to the ad-supported business model, since privacy advocates are now saying ISP stands for “Information Sales for Profit.” As a platform, we neither hold nor track  consumer data, so we’re not directly involved. But we do have a dog in this hunt because we are strong supporters of free internet content that is ad-supported. We work with our partners to make better ads, so there can be fewer ads. We also work with our partners on brand safety in media buying.

We must take pains to maintain the highest ethical and privacy standards so we don’t entice consumers to download more ad blockers. Before this ruling, we had achieved stasis, and were moving on. Let’s do everything we can to keep going in the right direction for both publishers and advertisers, as well as for consumers.

 

 

 

 

Legacy Media Adopting New Models

Time Magazine is one of the legacy names in the media business. But like all  media, it is struggling to adapt to new business models. In a Wall Street Journal podcast interview, Jen Wong, COO of Time, discussed her opportunity to grow the Time subscription business as well as some of its forays into new business models. The most interesting area of the podcast for our offerings is Wong’s assertion that her offerings can now compete against Facebook and Google in the ability to provide brands and agencies cross-device attribution.

Even in an age of difficulty for traditional publications, Time still has 30,000,000 subscribers — about the same number as Netflix. It has also built up the infrastructure to sell magazines from its own database of current and former subscribers. The company expects to grow its business using that consumer marketing infrastructure. And Time also owns The Foundry, its content marketing arm. Content marketing, one of the hottest topics in media, is an area many newer publications, like Buzzfeed, are also getting into, because there is an almost insatiable demand on the part of brands for appropriate content.Wong predicted that the branded content market would double to $9 billion by 2018, and that her company would have a substantial segment of it. Foundry both creates  content and operates websites on behalf of brands, and even now it’s the fastest growing segment of Time’s business, growing about 2x year over year.

However, Time is in the same position as most legacy media: while it is branching out in new directions, three quarters of its revenue still comes from print advertising, which is an endangered source. That’s the conundrum for the established media companies: how much to invest in new platforms that have not demonstrated the capacity to monetize as well as their former businesses.

Still, Time considers native, which is now 20% of revenue, a needle-moving bet for digital, along with people-based targeting and video.

People-based targeting is a euphemism for the ability to target a user with device attribution — finding the same user on mobile and desktop. This is Facebook’s strong suit because of the size of its dataset, but Time has now acquired Viant and Adelphic to compete in this arena. With these acquisitions, specific targets can be found on the web, and then can be attributed across channels in a manner similar to what Facebook offers. In Wong’s view, agencies are looking for alternatives to Facebook and Google, and unlike most publishers, Time does have people-based data which would seem to be a major advantage, especially if the metrics Time provides to agencies prove more accurate than Facebook’s.

In video, Time has a pre-roll business that is growing, and has launched an OTT services as well. In addition to the Time subscriber base,  Viant brought 1.2 billion profiles, and 700,000,000 device IDs in the US, and into that database Time contributed its own 100 million expired and 30 million active subscribers. To make it simpler for agencies to transact against that data in an era of programmatic advertising,  the company even developed its own DSP — although Wong said she would not advise other publishers to try to do this if they didn’t have as much data.

Data is the area in which publishers now must compete against Facebook and Google.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trustworthy Accountability Group

The Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) has accomplished an incredible amount during its first year, including rolling out a TAG Registry, an Anti-Piracy Initiative, Certified Against Fraud, Certified Against Malware,  and updated Inventory Quality Guidelines. Now the work begins: to round up more participants. The early adopters are already on board: 127 companies are already TAG-Registered. To be registered, companies must complete a self-assessment and attest to having certain processes and procedures in place and a plan to keep them in place for the coming year. TAG Registered companies have been verified as legitimate participants in the digital advertising industry through a proprietary background check and review process powered by Dun & Bradstreet and approved by TAG. Once registered, companies are awarded a TAG-ID, a unique global identifier that they can share with partners and add  to their ads or the ad inventory they sell.

130 people, myself included, have completed Compliance Officer Training, and have been designated Compliance Officers for their companies.

I first became involved with the Trustworthy Accountability Group last January, when it held a meeting at the IAB Annual Leadership Conference. Because I’ve represented ZEDO for five years on several industry initiatives that fit our “high-road” approach to partnership with both advertisers and sellers, I attended the meeting and listened to the plans. I had no idea how fast they would move.

By the end of the year, TAG had released a suite of anti-Malware tools, including “Best Practices for Scanning Creative for Malware,” a glossary of terms that establishes a reference of malvertising types, and a Malware Threat Sharing Hub, where certified companies can join a trustworthy collaborative network that qualifies and tracks malicious ads.

The Certified Against Fraud program, which was the last to roll out,  is open to participation by buyers, direct sellers and intermediaries across the digital advertising ecosystem.  Requirements to achieve the TAG “Certified Against Fraud” Seal differ according to a company’s role in the supply chain.  These requirements are outlined in details in the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines.

Companies that are shown to abide by the Certified Against Fraud Guidelines receive the “Certified Against Fraud” Seal and can use the seal to publicly communicate their commitment to combatting fraudulent non-human traffic in the digital advertising supply chain.

When the group sent out its press release earlier this year on the first hundred companies to get registered, it reiterated its pledge to create industry transformation at scale. It was formed in response to multiple accusations by news sources and participants of lack of transparency. With TAG, the industry hopes to prove that it can regulate itself.

DigiTrust Universal Identity for Consumers is Here

All morning we’ve been listening to a webinar on  TAG, Ad-IDD, Time-based Metrics, and DigiTrust presented by IAB. By far the most interesting new development in the industry to us, is DigiTrust  a new 501c6 that is trying to fix identity and tracking problems for digital ads.

Many publishers have been concerned about the number of third party requests to their sites. They know those requests make the consumer experience poor.

So DigiTrust has come along to standardize the identifiers for consumers. Digitrust is a cloud service that  will offer a DigiTrust ID, and a DigiTrust consent stored in a 1st party cookie accessible by third parties. As a standardized ID for all, with DigiTrust, everybody uses the same ID for the consumer.  It’s just a common language they use with their partners, giving every party proof of consent, which is already necessary in Canada and Europe and may become essential in the US soon.

It eliminates the need for pixel syncs, makes pages load faster, levels the playing field between open web and walled gardens. Publishers need to start with putting a script that sets the identifier, establishes ID and consent, and can be passed through to all their suppliers. This standardized ID makes it possible to eliminate all the other Javascript calls and provides a level of control for the publisher. If you close down Javascript access, you benefit the entire ecosystem.

How it works: the consumer views a site with DigiTrust Javascript on any browser, JS then checks if a token and consent exist, and if not a consent notice is shown to the consumer via a window shade. Any subsequent page navigation is then directed through Digitrust ID. Digitrust stores no data, and empowers NO party with incremental data. It’s just a way to identify consumers once.

DigiTrust is aiming for for 100% consumer notice and consent and all Digitrust platforms and publishers must be part of a self-regulatory program (like TAG).

Publishers pay nothing. Platforms pay. Membership fees are one-time non recurring, with monthly API subscription fees for a decryption key. The more people involved, the more cost is spread among members.

So far, 60+ ad tech platforms have indicated interest,  with 20 already paying the fees. There are also 50+ premium publishers involved. But because of the holidays, deployments are not expected to happen until Q1. For information, contact Jordan @digitru.st Digitrust

Facebook Metrics Show Danger of Buying in Walled Gardens

Nothing says more about the danger of buying only from walled gardens than Facebook’s recent admission that people were not watching as much video on the social network as it had  reported. The average video on Facebook was counted as “viewed” after as little as three seconds, but Facebook didn’t calculate in the number of people who don’t watch video on the site at all.

Facebook apparently made a division error of the kind any normal human could make,

Instead of dividing the total time spent watching a video by the total number of people who watched that video, Facebook’s metric reflected the total time spent watching divided by the number of views the video had generated. With Facebook counting views at three seconds, that meant anyone who had seen just a glimpse of the video was not getting represented in the metric. In fact, Facebook told advertisers that its metric was off by 60 to 80 percent, according to The [Wall Street] Journal.

Advertisers seemed not to care, revealing they they don’t buy on time watched, but on either 10-second views or completed views. In this case. Facebook’s being wrong didn’t seem to cost advertisers money. But they should care, because it turns out 80% of Facebook users don’t watch video at all. Brands looking to shift large budgets from TV to digital video can’t do that safely until the know what their return on investment will be similar. It would be more advantageous if buyers spent more with independent publishers, who are closer to their audiences. Facebook’s audience is simply too large to count properly, and too uncommitted to give good results.

Most independent publishers are forced to accept some kind of third party verification of their views, but Facebook does not use third party vendors; it does its own analytics internally. After this admission, self-attestation will not work anymore for Facebook. It must allow in the same third party vendors, ComScore, Nielsen, or someone else, that the rest of the publishing world uses to tell its story.

For publishers, this inflation of the video watching time is worrisome at best, because most publishers felt they had to pay ball with Facebook and when the platform put its emphasis on video, publishers scrambled to provide video content. But all these publisher resources would be wasted if no one were watching. Because of the way advertisers pay, they can afford to wait and see if their ads work. Content publishers have no such luxury. Once they throw money at an expensive initiative like video, they would like to be sure they’re getting paid.

It will be a while until all this sorts itself out, and we figure out whether mobile video deserves the dollars being pulled out of trusty old TV.

 

TAG Releases Names of First Hundred Participants

It’s a very exciting time in the digital media business. The Trustworthy Accountability Group’s effort to clean up the supply chain has been gathering momentum all year. We’ve (ZEDO) been working on the Business Transparency Committee, and on the IQG (Internet Quality Guidelines) working group. During this first year, over 100 companies, most of them familiar names in the advertising industry, have gone through the process of registration as trustworthy partners, and have either self-attested or been audited on their business practices. All the major advertising holding companies have already been through the process, which has become more common for anyone who buys or sells advertising. In the future, the process will extent to intermediaries.

There is now an accepted transfer protocol for the transmission of registration IDs and payment IDs, and these have begun being passed back and forth during automated transactions.

“The TAG Registry is the foundation for the full range of TAG’s programs to fight fraud, reduce ad-supported piracy, block malware, and increase transparency in the digital advertising ecosystem,” said Mike Zaneis, CEO of TAG. “Through the TAG Registry and use of TAG-IDs, companies can tell which of their industry partners have taken the necessary steps to verify their business as a legitimate digital ad industry participant. When the TAG Registry is combined with the Payment ID system, a floodlight of transparency will illuminate the digital advertising ecosystem, and criminals will have no place left to hide.”

The TAG Registry is one of two parts of the interlocking “Verified by TAG” Program designed to fight digital ad-related crime and increase transparency across the digital ad ecosystem. The other core element of the program, TAG’s Payment ID Protocol, helps ensure that payments made in the digital ad ecosystem are made only to legitimate companies. The Payment ID Protocol enables intermediaries to add a unique identifier for each participant in the supply chain, allowing companies to monitor their ad campaigns and “follow the money” to see who is receiving money for each advertising impression.

Following the money will be the best way for media planners and publishers, as well as ad exchanges and ad servers, to be sure they are dealing with quality partners. The Trustworthy Accountability Group was created to spur transformational improvement at scale across the digital advertising ecosystem, focusing on four core areas: eliminating fraudulent traffic, combating malware, fighting ad-supported Internet piracy to promote brand integrity, and promoting brand safety through greater transparency.

 

Reach is More than Just a Number

Once again we find ourselves ahead of the curve. Last year, we realized that the programmatic race to the bottom had indeed hit bottom, and we sensed a flight to quality. Fortunately for ZEDO, we had already developed a private buying platform for media buyers to use when they wanted to reach more than just “eyeballs.” Our private platform starts with our high performance ZINC formats — inView and inArticle –and allows brands to use those units on our premium publisher network.

Last year we also “cleaned house” with our publishers, eliminating anyone whose traffic might be non-human or fraudulent. We now have a completely clean supply chain and privacy policies strong enough to make us members of the Online Trust Association’s Honor Roll for the fourth consecutive year.

Now we are beginning to see marketers come to the realization that they want better targeting, even if it means compromising that old metric “reach.”

Advertisers are starting to understand that context and quality of ad units matter now more than ever. They are also starting to think of the audience as the currency rather than simply counting impressions. The head of digital for a major wireless carrier recently stated, “There are only 5 million people in this country who I can get to switch mobile carriers, so why am I marketing to 275 million?”

The rising popularity of private marketplaces represents a step forward for advertisers who are now able to transact directly with publishers to secure higher-quality inventory, particularly in mobile and video.

Indeed. Why pay to reach people who will never buy your product or service and perhaps run the risk that your haphazard targeting will be the last straw that forces them to block ads?

Premium publishers who use private platforms will also have the edge over social sites like Facebook and Snapchat, who are less transparent about their users than traditional publisher sites. Facebook and Snapchat (the walled gardens) have hundreds of millions of users, but are only slowly opening themselves up to scrutiny by media planners. Up until now, they’ve operated as if what they say about their audiences cannot be challenged, because they have highly desirable audiences in very large numbers. But as brands realize they have more hope of moving merchandise by going deep with the right audiences rather than broad with global audience networks, they will turn away from Facebook and seek their niche audiences.