Are SSL Certificates Still Safe?

Now that everyone on the internet knows that SSL certificates are supposed to guarantee a certain level of security, it’s disturbing to learn that even information entered through an encrypted connection can be subject to phishing attacks. Phishing attacks on a a site with a SLL certificate are particularly dangerous because they are unexpected. However, as all of us who have been involved in the campaign against fraud and malware know, the bad guys are often ahead of the good guys in employing new techniques.

There are actually a few cases in which SSL certificates have been issued specifically for phishing purposes, but in most cases unwary innocent certificate holders find that they are unwilling co-conspirators by providing a phishing facility because their sites have been compromised by attackers. We subscribe to a list of known phishing sites, and we never serve ads to them.  We also do not hold or trade in information. It’s just not our business model and it never has been.

But it’s also worthwhile to alert visitors to other methods of preventing their personal information from getting into the wrong hands. Netcraft provides a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that allows ordinary people to look up information about the sites they’re visiting and achieve some protection from phishing through prevention.

Interestingly enough, GoDaddy has a lower percentage of its SSL certificates used in phishing attacks than most of the other large Certificate Authorities like Global Sign, DigiCert and Symantec, because it hosts a large percentage of the certificates it issues.

According to Netcraft itself, it

first launched its anti-phishing system in 2005. All phishing sites are carefully validated before an alert is raised. Well over 39.6 million unique phishing sites have been detected and blocked by Netcraft’s system to date [December 2017].

Netcraft’s phishing feed is used in all major web browsers and it is also licensed by many of the leading anti-virus, content filtering, web-hosting and domain registration companies. At least three separate third-party studies have found Netcraft’s anti-phishing blocklist to be the most comprehensive feed available.

Netcraft’s phishing site alerts present an excellent opportunity for service providers to win new customers and reassure existing ones by taking a proactive stance against fraud.

This year, as we head into an environment in which information has been weaponized by governments, it is more important than ever that those of us in the online advertising industry we aware of the resources we have at our disposal to restore and repair online trust.

Better Ads in 2018 from ZEDO

For the past six months, we’ve been writing about efforts to make the advertising industry better, which are tantamount to saving free content on the web. After all, if the industry continues to ignore consumers, they will simply turn off ads. Many efforts are focused on this direction, including several promising blockchain startups aiming and the media buying process.

But our current favorite initiative is one we’ve discussed back in September 2016, when the Coalition for Better Ads first launched. In the past year or so, the Coalition has developed a framework to “save” the industry on the format side.

In January 2018, the Coalition will begin rollout of the Better Ads Experience Program, a voluntary initiative for industry participants to improve the online ad experience for consumers and promote marketplace adoption of the Better Ad Standards. Based on a framework developed by the Coalition, the Better Ads Experience Program will certify web publishers that agree not to use the most disruptive ads identified in the Standards and will accredit browsers and advertising technology companies that will assess publishers’ compliance with the Standards and filter digital ads based on the Standards.

The Program will maintain a register of certified companies that will not have ads on their sites filtered based on the Standards by browsers and advertising technology companies that participate in the Program. If compliance issues arise, certified companies will be notified and have an opportunity to address violations or to pursue review by an independent dispute resolution mechanism available through the Program. Additional details about the program, including the registration process, fees, and other details, will be released in January for review by companies that are interested in participating.

The Better Ads Standards currently have been developed for the desktop and mobile web environments in Europe and North America. The Coalition’s extensive consumer research identified the following types of desktop ad experiences beneath the Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, auto-play video ads with sound, prestitial ads with countdown and large sticky ads. For the mobile web environment, the following types of ad experiences fell beneath the Better Ads Standard: pop-up ads, prestitial ads, ads with density greater than 30%, flashing animated ads, auto-play video ads with sound, poststitial ads with countdown, full-screen scrollover ads, and large sticky ads.

We support every industry initiative we can that is focused on improving and professionalizing our industry. Ask us anything you need to know about our formats and their compliance, and we’ll be able to help you.

Dependence on Facebook is Bad for Publishers and Advertisiers

Without giving it enough attention, both publishers and marketers have become too dependent on traffic from Facebook. Not that Facebook is going away any time soon, but an entire industry has given up control to a single platform. Single sources of supply are always dangerous, and Facebook has become very nearly a single source of audience supply.

At a recent conference at Harvard Business School on the future of advertising and publishing, the very first panel (Social Distribution, Advertising and the Free Press) questioned whether this industry, long part of democracy, can continue to exist since we have come to know about fake news. In fact, the opening comment from Emily Bell of the Tow Center for Journalism at Columbia was a question about whether we even knew what an ad was anymore. Everything  is an “ad”  in an era where content distributed to targeted groups of people can change minds and even influence elections.

We are in danger of having legitimate advertising conflated with political propaganda.  And our industry groups are not focused on this at all, they’re busy trying to lambaste Apple and Google for taking away cookies. Cookies are the least of online advertising’s problems.

What we in the industry know as ads are unimportant, given the use by Russia in the last election of actual content in Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds. It’s the audience that’s important, and the use of artificial intelligence to target that audience in a more and more accurate way with content that is not recognized as advertising.

These targeted ads on Facebook became problematic in the 2016 election: With such small and specific audiences, Carroll said, it was impossible for citizens and reporters outside the targeted population to even see what information or disinformation was being promoted during the election, and who was seeing it. This led to the feeling of a fragmented society that many experienced when they saw friends and family sharing falsehoods on social media that seemed to come out of nowhere. As Carroll put it in his opening presentation, Facebook had “put military grade PSYOP [psychological operations] weapons in the hands of anyone.”

Facebook has already begun to respond by instituting more transparency for not only political ads, but for all ads.

Even more important, it has begun a test to segregate posts from publishers into a separate feed, the “Explore Feed” and make them pay.

In six markets, Facebook has removed posts from Pages in the original News Feed and relegated them to another feed, Filip Struhárik, editor and social media manager at Denník Nwrote. That means Facebook’s main feed is no longer a free playing field for publishers. Instead, it’s a battlefield of “pay to play,” where publishers have to pony up the dough to get back into the News Feed.

Publishers in markets where this is being tested have already begun to see changes in their traffic, and it is being decried as a hindrance to the distribution of news.

Moreover, Facebook is going to Washington, DC to testify about what it knew about Russian ad buyers attempting to use “dark posts” to influence the American election.

With Facebook grabbing 77% of all growth the advertising spend from marketers, brands are getting themselves into potential hot water. Congress will probably do something to regulate all five big tech companies, and that could well produce chaos.

Publishers and advertisers should plan for big changes to come, and not be so dependent on Facebook either for advertising or for distribution. We did just fine without it in the past, and we can lower our dependence on it for the future.

 

 

A Moment of Thanks to All

Every year at Thanksgiving, I become reflective about the year that is coming to a close. It has been a tumultuous one for our industry, and for the world as a whole, but as the year draws to a close there is still much to be thankful for at ZEDO.

First, ZEDO’s incredible product development team.  Not only do our products  stay abreast of and even ahead of the industry, but they perform so well that when a customer gives us a chance to test against a competitor, we always outperform. This while taking the high road in an industry still fraught with malware, fraud, and misrepresentation.

Second, our sales teams, who never sell vaporware, but get us in front of the right customers so we can help people achieve their financial objectives on both the publisher and the advertiser side.

Third, our highly regarded support and implementation teams, for which we always receive compliments. We have always been known for our support, and this will never change because our customer relationships are not transactional — they’re personal.

Next, our customers, whom we prefer to think of as our partners. Indeed, some of our customers have been on a very long journey with us from ad serving at the turn of the century to serving advertisers with high impact formats on a secure platform today.

Fourth, our thirty party partners, the technologies that externally verify our ads to make certain we keep our promises.

And next, the industry associations we support, like IAB and the Online Trust Association, who keep on working to bring our industry greater professionalism, better research, and higher standards.

Last, but certainly not least, everyone on the ZEDO team who keeps the lights on and makes us who we are. When my friends ask me why I went into the ad tech business, I answer that it’s because of the great people I’m able to work with all the time — bright minds in a fast-moving business.

I hope you all out there in the audience remember to feel grateful for your families, your teams, your health, and your continued presence on this great planet whether it is Thanksgiving in your country or not.

 

 

Fixing the News Business (For Now)

Jeff Jarvis, former founding editor of Entertainment Weekly and creator of Buzz Machine, and now professor of Journalism at CUNY,  has written a very profound article on how to save newspapers. The article is relevant not only to newspapers, but also to any publication that seeks to maintain its life in the current digital environment. In this environment, there is competition for attention, and an almost infinite supply of news, both fake and real, and entertainment.

As an experienced partner to publishers (since 1999), we would like to recommend that they think about some of the points Jarvis makes in his article. He begins by setting the stage:

The burning house sits on the foundation of media’s old business model, which is built on volume: reach and frequency in mass media terms, unique users and clicks online. This house is doomed to commoditization as the abundance and competition the internet spawns drive the price of the scarcity we once controlled — media time and space — toward zero. Yet this is the model that still makes us our money and so, just to survive and perchance to invest in an alternative future and home, we must still feed that fire with cats, Kardashians, and every new trick we can find, from programmatic ads and so-called content-recommendation engines (which commoditize media yet further) to native advertising (which, when it fools our readers, only depletes the seed corn that is our trust and brand). We know where this ends: in ashes.

Well, we all know that. Now what do we do about it? Jarvis says we have to build our businesses on value over volume, and we must develop relationships that go deep into communities. And by communities he means not just localities, but affinity groups and other self-identifying niches and segments — perhaps parents, perhaps, transgender young adults, perhaps cancer patients. The key here is self-identifying.

This means not buying data, but developing our own — first party data that comes from talking to our current customers, subscribers, visitors, and finding out more of what they want. For some publishers, this is more difficult than it would seem. As publishers, we’re used to putting out content and assuming we can target the audience from outside. We can target, for instance, Hispanics. But Hispanics don’t necessarily define themselves as Hispanics; they have characteristics that cut across the obvious label.

Note well that in each of these situations, we must shift from media-centric products — our newspaper, our content, our home page, our comments — to public-centric services: a place for people to come together with residents of their town; a place where seniors can find the right adult development for them; continuing alerts about developments in an issue a high-school parent cares about; a means of connecting with others who are concerned about filthy park to get it fixed; and so on. I am not talking about personalizing the serving of the content we already have (though that would be a good and necessary start). I am talking instead about building new products to serve specific constituencies in new ways.

And what do we do to solve this?

Start with advertising. At the most basic level, if you are making products and services that are more useful, engaging, relevant, and valuable to people, then you will get greater loyalty, engagement, and usage, and even under the old, CPM-based advertising business, you will have more ad inventory. More important, knowing about people’s interests and needs — at an individual level — will enable you to sell higher-value and highly targeted advertising.

The only way we can fight media’s commoditization at the hands of programmatic and retargeting advertising and the large platforms is by gathering our own first-party data. And the best way to gather that data is not by forcing our users to give it to us through registration, by inferring it through demographics, or by sneakily compiling data from privacy-pillaging services such as Acxiom.

This is your decision, publishers. What kind of publication do you want to be?

Brand Safe Outstream Video for Publishers

We have been offering what the market now calls “outstream video” ads for almost three years.  As one of the earliest experimenters with the format as we knew it — as a video ad placed on a text site — we found the ads well-received. Indeed, when we began offering this format, we called it “instream,” because it was a  mobile video that showed in a stream of text content. It was a way for publishers to get the higher CPMs for video advertising without having to produce their own video content.

We have no idea why the industry re-named this format “outstream,” which has caused confusion about what the format really is and whether it has advantages for publishers. Now EMarketer has done a study showing that this format has a future, if certain obstacles can be overcome. These obstacles do not apply to the way we sell outstream, because we are not an open exchange; we use our ZEDO secure premium platform.

Here are eMarketer’s reservations about the future of outstream  along with our responses:

Concerns over potential ad fraud

When we sell an ad format to a brand, we do not put the ad on an open exchange. Instead, we go after publishers in our network who we think will want the ad, and fill from our internal publisher partnerships. We have been measured as 97% fraud free, and we have purged our network of suspicious “publishers.” We will only do business with premium publishers, which is why we are smaller than some of the open exchanges. Most of those open exchanges will eventually have to change their business models to accommodate new IAB and Trustworthy Accountability Group certifications coming next year.

A relative lack of measurement data to corroborate its value

On a private platform, it is easier to see where and when an ad appears. We have partnerships with measurement tools so we can provide information on completion rates

A perceived disconnect between text-based content and video-based ads

Again, in our case we use a partner to scan all our publisher pages for appropriateness of content and brand safety. Truthfully, it’s possible to track many of the things that have given digital advertising a bad name if people will just try a bit harder. All the brand safety tools are out there, and have been out there for the past five years. In the past, we partnered with a company called Proximic, which was eventually sold to comScore, and now we are partnering with AmplifyReach.

The possibility that out-stream ads could be detrimental to media brands in the long term.

This has more to do with design thinking on the part of media brands and the way they present ads on their own sites than about outstream itself.  Fewer ads at higher CPMs appearing within a stream would naturally upset visitors less than obtrusive takeover ads that appear before a visitor even begins to interact with a site. A big reason for us to develop outstream was our desire to get away from takeovers and interstitials, which brands loved and publishers hated.

 

Highly Differentiated Offerings Survive

We recently listened to Terence Kawaja, founder and CEO of Luma Partners, our industry’s investment bankers. Kawaja participates in many of the mergers and acquisitions now occurring in the industry, and he had some interesting information that made us believe ZEDO and ZINC are moving in the right direction — toward highly differentiated offerings.

We are no longer defining ourselves as an ad tech company, because we are no longer simply a middle man in transactions. We are a private platform that services a premium publisher network on the one hand, and major brands who want innovative formats that generate high engagement on the other. Our latest innovation is “Watch and Engage,” designed for affinity groups and fans on mobile devices and made to run within apps.

Kawaja says that the dark night of ad tech is occurring in the pullback of undifferentiated companies, many funded during the ad tech hey- day by venture capital.  Some of those companies, which he declined to name, “are zombies, under siege but hard to kill.”

There are currently 4000 companies in the Lumascape. (We remember when there were fewer than 2000.) In the current environment, you can have a company with $20, $50, or even $100 million in revenue and not be safe, because most ad tech companies are not SaaS and they do not have continuing revenue. To succeed, a company today needs scale, growth and profitability.

One company Kawaja mentioned favorably is The Trade Desk, whose IPO was highly successful even in what has been called the dark hours for ad tech.

When questioned about the “duopoly” of Facebook and Google, and its effects on the future of the sector, Kawaja was surprisingly optimistic. There will still be market opportunities, he said, even when everyone is perceived to be fighting about scraps, because the industry is now so large that a good company can take market share from another, less technically astute and customer-focused company and grab a slice of  the $34 billion market remaining after the duopoly has soaked up 75% of the ad spend. Behind Google and Facebook,  Amazon has the best shot at being a credible #3, because with its Alexa devices, Amazon has made every house into a Trojan horse for information.

Another cause for Luma’s  optimism is Kawaja’s belief that ad tech will see multiple exits next year over $100 million each. He says ad tech is like any other tech sector, although it has more “false positives,” by which he means companies that appear to be innovative and successful, but are actually not differentiated enough in their product offerings to compete in the marketplace. Those will continue to be acquired next year.

In the media industry itself, Kawaja sees the beginnings of a big migration from I/O to programmatic that we have been seeing and participating in for four years. When he spoke of the beginnings, we thought he must be referring to the video end of the business, convergent TV, or streaming over the top, because display went to programmatic years ago. But the convergences of TV and video, happening as we speak, disintermediates a market that consists of $75 billion in cable and network TV spend, and another $75b in paid TV.

So there’s plenty of money for companies that can truly add value, as we believe we can.  Get in touch with us at adsales@zedo.com to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Publishers, Tomorrow Has Come

Advertising was born as a way to introduce consumers to new products. It was placed in a mass medium through which  consumers got both information and product knowledge. Because consumers had to go to a store to buy, advertising was often separated from the buying experience by hours, days, weeks. The goal of traditional advertising was to keep the name of the product in the mind of a consumer until that consumer was ready to buy. That was called branding.

However, today information about products is everywhere, especially on e-commerce sites like Amazon.  You may want to ask whether we even need advertising in a world so full of product information.

We do. We need it to distinguish between one product and other in the same space. And we still need it to keep the names of products top of mind until we are ready to buy. 99% of the time people are online, they’re not there to buy anything.  That’s the big  mistake digital advertising made in its early years. Every time an ad appeared, it tried to sell someone something.  This annoyed the non-purchasing visitors.

We are entering a different world for advertising. The app store now has 2,000,000 apps that have been downloaded 130,000,000,000 times. $50b has been paid by Apple directly to developers. There are now four separate Apple platforms, each of which is world changing, and each of which has its own apps. And we haven’t even talked about Android, which has the lion’s share of the mobile market.

Every app developer is a publisher, and each is competing with traditional publishers for attention. If you are playing Candy Crush, you are not consuming news. And if you are consuming news, chances are its curated within an app. The open web has lost ground to the application economy. The audience is fragmented beyond belief.

What does this mean for advertisers? It means many opportunities to bring a message to potential customers, but in a different environment with different affordances. It’s not about the masses anymore, it’s about the niches.

To reach niches, engagement is key. Advertisers need to be clever about how they attempt to engage people who are not online to buy. Their goals need to be changed from performance to branding, and their strategies altered accordingly.

 

 

Facebook’s Day in the Sun May be Over

For publishers, Facebook is no longer the darling it once was.  To be honest, it was never a darling; it was more like a force that had to be reckoned with, as all the publishers who jumped on Instant Articles thought they knew. For them, once Instant Articles launched, it was damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Now, with display advertising largely being replaced by video, Instant Articles isn’t worth the loss of control over their own sites.

The Times is among an elite group of publishers that’s regularly tapped by Facebook to launch new products, and as such, it was one of the first batch of publishers to pilot Instant. But it stopped using Instant Articles after a test last fall that found that links back to the Times’ own site monetized better than Instant Articles, said Kinsey Wilson, evp of product and technology at the Times. People were also more likely to subscribe to the Times if they came directly to the site rather than through Facebook, he said. Thus, for the Times, IA simply isn’t worth it. Even a Facebook-dependent publisher like LittleThings, which depends on Facebook for 80 percent of its visitors, is only pushing 20 percent of its content to IA.

But what’s happening with video? Sites like Bloomberg are launching tech demo offerings that publish video to Facebook live. But like everything else Facebook, Facebook Live arrived with the promise that it would solve monetization problems, but no one knows for sure (yet) how well it works.

Mark Gurman, the expert from 9-5 Mac who got hired away by Bloomberg because he had so many contacts at Apple who fed him rumors, has just started a gadget show that will stream live on FB live. This follows the successful sale of the Wirecutter to the New York Times, and the launch of Circuit Breaker by The Verge. Apparently everyone thinks unboxings, demos, and reviews of gadgets will be the best way to monetize video on Facebook.

We don’t think so. One of the problems with Facebook is that no one goes there to buy things, or even to look at branded content. Rather, they go to connect with other human beings in Facebook Groups, or to respond to invitations to Facebook events. We think that as time goes on and Facebook’s numbers get audited by third parties, we will all learn that Facebook, although it has such amazing scale, does not produce proportional results.

And all of this may be further complicated by new tools Facebook has just released that allow users to suggest that specific articles and sites might be fake news.

We’re pretty sure that the days of sheer scale are numbered, and advertising will go back to more sensible goals — reaching the right potential buyers.

 

 

 

 

Ad Fraud Ruins Analytics

Ad fraud. The gift that keeps on giving.

Marketers are beginning to understand that ad fraud affects their actual spend (they get less for their ad dollar), but they haven’t yet caught on to the fact that it affects their metrics as well.  Fake traffic and clicks generated by bots throw off analytics and can cause a marketer to optimize a campaign for the wrong things and waste even bigger dollars.

One way to make ad fraud less lucrative for the fraudsters is for marketers to stop paying for “each,” or volume, and start paying only for quality. That would mean coming to terms with the fact that low quality traffic is even worse than no traffic at all. At the recent IAB Annual Leadership Summit, P&G Chief Brand Officer Mark Pritchard announced that his company, one of the largest advertisers in the world, will only pay for traffic if they can see where it is coming from and whether humans actually viewed ads. Since P&G spent $7.2 billion last year, his announcement caused more than just a slight ripple in the industry.

A casualty of the big wave that rolled over the media supply chain happened to be Facebook, which has always provided its own metrics, and has announced this week that it will allow its ad platform to be verified by the Media Rating Council’s standards.

This will be fun.

And you can’t blame this all on the rise of programmatic. It’s not how the ads are sold or bought, but the kinds of sites selling inventory on the exchanges. Most of the bots happen to be in programmatic ad exchanges, because, as fraud researcher Augustine Fou says, “when those bots cause an ad impression to load on a “long tail” website, they earn ad revenue for that site. Bots don’t make money by causing ad impressions on mainstream publisher sites.”

This is the drum we have been  banging for what seems like forever: buy smaller, higher quality audiences. Again, from Dr. Fou,

one key thing for [marketers] to realize is that there are only a finite number of real human beings. So when they target real human identities, the volumes of ad impressions will probably be far less than they are buying now—but that is a good thing, because they want their ads to be shown to real humans, not bots.

Marketers know who has purchased from them before, who has signed up for email newsletters, or who has visited their website.

By onboarding their own data, they can more easily achieve the identity targeting we just talked about—and thus make their media much more effective because they are actually getting their ads in front of real humans.

We are not sure why this is such a difficult lesson for marketers to learn.