Publishers claim that companies selling contextual advertising tools are unfairly harvesting their data

Trade groups representing US, UK and Canadian publishers believe companies offering contextual advertising services may be overstepping their bounds.

The Ozone Project, the Local Media Consortium and the Association of Online Publishers – groups representing The Guardian, Vice, the BBC, McClatchy and others – have raised concerns that some ad tech companies may have harvested and sold publisher data unfairly, possibly infringing on a publisher’s “intellectual property”.

Beef: Publishers say, “Hey, wait a minute, you didn’t ask if you could do that,” accusing these companies of using content from their sites to create contextual advertising segments for customers. without their permission and outside the limits of their contracts. Meanwhile, publishers offer advertisers direct contextual advertising deals themselves.

Why is this important? The heath of programmatic advertising has created mistrust between advertisers looking for scale and publishers complaining about an ad tech tax.

Now that third-party cookies are gone and some ad dollars are being shifted to contextual advertising – ads based on media content, not personal information – publishers want a (better) seat at the table and tougher terms as the industry adopts new technologies.

“It doesn’t matter, whether it’s contextual content or third-party audiences, it’s the same manifestation of someone in the middle taking something from the publisher,” said Scott Cunningham, consultant for the Local. Media Consortium, which represents US publishers like Slate and McClatchy, and one of the founders of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Tech Lab.

Simply because you can…

Integral Ad Science, a vendor that offers brand safety and ad verification services to advertisers, began selling contextual targeting tools in 2020 and was explicitly named in a memo by the Association of Online Publishers shared with Marketing Brew.

It’s one of ‘several prominent vendors’ accused of collecting and selling data outside of a publisher’s licensing agreements, which the trade group says isn’t just a violation of the publisher’s terms and conditions, but also a “potential violation of basic intellectual property rights”. .”

  • In practice: Contextual targeting segments are usually innocuous. In January, IAS released segments allowing advertisers to “capitalize on the Easter cheer”, offering “cookie-free targeting” and “content adjacency at scale” 🤢. Segments include “food and drink – sweet snacks”, “games and toys – children’s toys”, “spring break” and “spring fashion”.
  • These segments are used to “target Easter-related content” that is relevant to these categories, i.e. content that comes from… publishers.

“It’s our metadata on our page, our IP address, and it’s acquired without consent,” said AOP chief executive Richard Reeves, who authored the memo in fall 2021.

AOP has since raised the issue with WPP, the Trustworthy Accountability Group (TAG) and the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, its data protection authority, which Reeves says is investigating whether it this is a confidentiality issue.

AOP first recognized the problem when publishers began reporting increased crawler activity on their sites.

“What we are seeing now are people almost brazenly walking through your house, removing your furniture and selling your assets elsewhere. And you don’t even know they’re doing it, or you can’t get any value out of it,” Reeves told Marketing Brew. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you have to say you should.”

A different organisation, the Ozone Project, a consortium of UK publishers including The Guardian, The Independent and The Telegraph, pointed out the following in a recent note:

  • “Publisher audiences and their interests are harvested on an industry scale by third parties who sell them to marketers in competition with the publisher(s) from whom they have extracted the data.”
  • “As the market hails contextual data as the post-cookie savior and points to unauthorized contextual data as its solution, it’s time this problem was addressed.”
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  • “While major brands invest millions of dollars in CSR initiatives, most are unaware that their advertising supply chain has been compromised by third parties selling them unlicensed (potentially stolen) publishers’ intellectual property (IP) ).”

Brand safety or contextual? Why not the two of them

Companies providing contextual advertising products, such as IAS, DoubleVerify, and Oracle, often use web crawlers and artificial intelligence to understand what is happening on a website. They use these capabilities to offer different services to marketers.

  • Some relate to brand safety, such as helping marketers prevent their ads from appearing alongside on-screen graphical content or avoiding propaganda.
  • Or content verification, i.e. making sure a brand ad is visible.
  • These tools are allegedly so good that they can tell if an article is about a tennis match, a review of a new phone, or the stock market.

Brands hire these companies and publishers seem to be fine with that because they want these brands to advertise on their sites. While these data can tell advertisers if a site is meeting a threshold for an ad buy, it can also be used to aggregate targeting data, which is then typically sold through a demand-side platform.

This is where the problem lies. Publishers have generally accepted these companies crawling their sites in the name of brand safety, visibility, etc., but they do not have agreed to let contextual providers sell this data for targeting, argued Danny Spears, COO of the Ozone Project. And it’s in “direct competition” with the publisher’s own sales team.

“[This] possible intellectual property infringement creates a set of products that offer a license-free alternative to legitimate, direct transactions with publishers, and there is only a limited amount of ad spend in the market,” he said. he told Marketing Brew. “Contextual targeting is valuable. There is only one source, it is the publishers.

In other words, go straight to the source.

Specifically, IAS, one of the world’s largest ad verification companies, told publishers that it’s all or nothing, that a publisher can’t choose how IAS analyzes a site or what they do. with this data. “They won’t break it up,” Reeves said.

IAS declined to answer a detailed list of questions sent by Marketing Brew.

The company, which went public in June last year, told investors it expects more advertisers to adopt contextual targeting and that its own contextual tools, rolling out in 2020, will benefit.

“The march toward a cookie-free future is a tailwind for our contextual business,” IAS CEO Lisa Utzschneider said during the company’s fourth quarter 2021 earnings call in early March.

During that same earnings call, Utzschneider clarified that its contextual targeting tool, called Context Control, accounted for 38% of IAS’s total programmatic revenue. The company’s total revenue was $102.5 million.

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