The Path to Trust and Transparency in MarTech

5th October 2022

In August, AdExchanger published an article covering the traction of the Seller-Defined Audiences (SDA) technical spec released earlier this year by the IAB Tech Lab . The article called out that while publishers are eager to align to this standard, demand from data buyers is limited primarily due to the fact that they do not have transparency into how Seller-Defined Audiences are built.

This issue of transparency is far from a new criticism in the MarTech ecosystem. New data solutions are created all of the time using “black box” approaches with no details shared externally about the data sources and methodology. 

Meanwhile, walled gardens – closed ecosystems where the platform owner has total control – continue to grow in dominance due to their ability to deliver desired campaign outcomes. However, they too lack transparency into how the data is collected and how it is used to reach target consumers. 

This lack of transparency also plays out in the B2C context as more individuals learn (and are surprised by) how their data is collected and used.  Governments around the world, and especially in countries governed by GDPR, have tried to increase consumer privacy protections. Yet aside from a few high profile legal cases and fines, such privacy protections, no matter how well meaning, haven’t really prompted business to be more transparent with consumers.

Given this track record, it seems like the marketing and advertising ecosystem is destined to continue down a path of mistrust. Consumers and privacy regulations will continue to try to limit how data is collected and used. And marketers and agencies will continue using a “go with what you know” approach, relying on the data they have always used and hoping for the best.

There is another way though, one that is guided by transparency and accountability. In late 2021, we announced a partnership with the IAB Tech Lab to bring together transparency and data quality standards. WIth this partnership there is a path to verifying and validating Seller-Defined Audiences in order to increase trust and transparency with data buyers. 

The first step towards transparency is for a publisher to populate the Data Transparency Standard (DTS) framework for each Seller-Defined Audience. This process involves disclosing key details about the audience including how it is created and where the data came from. The output of this effort helps data buyers better understand what exactly they are purchasing when transacting on a Seller-Defined Audience signal.

Now one could argue that seeing these audience details provides transparency but does not go so far as establishing trust. That is where independent verification comes in. Neutronian is a verification partner of the IAB Tech Lab, leveraging our background in data quality verification and certification to review the details provided by the publisher in the DTS labels along with the publisher’s process for populating the labels in order to confirm that what a publisher says an audience is aligns with what they are actually doing.

This second step introduces accountability and increases trustworthiness – something that is sorely lacking in today‘s advertising ecosystem. In the same way that you would not buy a house without an appraisal or purchase stocks without doing due diligence on the company or fund, a data buyer should not have to make data purchase decisions without independent verification that they are buying what they think they are.

As an added benefit, these standards and verification process will also help to put pressure on the bad actors in our ecosystem. Those using non-transparent (and possibly not entirely privacy safe) methods for data collection will need to clean up their acts. This will hopefully then increase the trust and transparency that MarTech has in the court of public opinion. And while the AdExchanger article does highlight some issues to overcome, taking steps towards transparency is better than waiting for the perfect solution.

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