New technology helps publishers plug leaks in audience data
Ad-management platform provider PubMatic is addressing what it claims is a billion-dollar problem for publishers: unauthorized audience tracking by advertising networks.
This “leakage” of audience data costs publishers up to $1 billion annually in lost revenue – a figure that PubMatic CEO Rajeev Goel said is derived from the amount of display advertising revenue that is based on audience buying.
The goal of PubMatic’s new Data Firewall technology is to help publishers identify who’s collecting anonymous data used for ad targeting. In the process of serving an ad on a publisher’s website, an ad network or demand-side platform provider (DSP) may drop a third-party pixel on the user. The pixels collect data on content-related activities or transaction-oriented tasks, such as search queries, which is used to build demographic or behavioral profiles.
The collection of user data by ad networks has been a bone of contention for privacy advocates, but now it’s attracting publishers’ attention for another reason: lost revenue. Ad networks are using the audience profiles created from a publisher’s site data to serve more targeted ads to users – even after they leave the site.
“Publishers have no stake in the outcome of that,” Goel said in an interview. “It’s built without the publisher knowing about it.” In other words, the publisher’s audience is being resold without the publisher’s knowledge – or cut of the sale.
The initial version of the Firewall product simply gives publishers visibility into the data being collected. The publisher can see how many pixels are being inserted, how often, and which ad network or DSP is dropping them. It’s an added input for publishers looking for more insight into the value of their ad network partnerships – which could give the publishers more leverage.
“Until the publisher has a good understanding of the extent of what’s happening [with unauthorized data collection], they really don’t have the ability to go to the networks and the DSPs to renegotiate the terms of the relationship,” said Goel.
Future versions of the technology will enable publishers to block insertion of pixels from individual ad networks or DSPs. Goel said PubMatic said that piece of the technology will take more time to develop – as will publishers’ strategies about how to use it. “Shining a light on this will lead to internal debate about how to use the feature,” said Goel. “They probably don’t want to just shut it all off. They’ll want to be more nuanced about where and who they want to block.”
The Firewall technology requires PubMatic’s premium sell-side ad management platform, which it licenses only to large publishers (minimum 100 million ad impressions monthly). The platform includes auction technology for selling inventory to ad networks, DSPs, and ad exchanges. Goel said it also ensures that publishers’ brands are protected from unwanted ads. PubMatic customers include TV Guide, eBay and Huffington Post.