Facing Pressure, the Ad Industry Bands Together to Build New Standards for Targeted Advertising

The Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media assembles as Congress looks to reform ad tech

Logos for ANA, P&G, The Trade Desk, 4a's, IAB, Unilever and IPG
Lawmakers say targeted advertising leads to data leakages, just as the ad industry wants to build new standards around that practice. Getty Images, ANA, P&G, The Trade Desk, 4a's, IAB, Unilever, IPG

Key insights:

The advertising industry is coming together to uphold regular digital practices in the face of major regulatory, web browser and mobile operating system changes just as government officials call for an investigation of ad-tech companies.

The initiative, called the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media, will develop new standards to advance and protect foundational digital ad practices, which include targeting and measurement, while also working to safeguard consumer privacy.

The Partnership is coming together amid the impending phase-out of third-party cookies, Apple’s changes to mobile identifiers and enforcement of digital privacy regulations like Europe’s GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act. All of those actions threaten to severely impact advertisers’ ability to target people on the internet.

The group will be led by Bill Tucker, group evp of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA). Dennis Buchheim, president of IAB Tech Lab, will oversee the Partnership’s technical standards efforts, and Stu Ingis, chairman of law firm Venable LLP, will lead the legal and policy working group.

The Partnership is split into four working groups: business practices; technical standards; privacy, policy and legal considerations; and communications and education.

The companies involved in the Partnership are:

  • 4A’s, ANA, IAB, IAB Tech Lab, Network Advertising Initiative, World Federation of Advertisers
  • Ford, General Motors, IBM, Procter & Gamble, Unilever
  • Universal McCann, Publicis Media
  • Adobe, MediaMath, The Trade Desk
  • NBCUniversal

“The Partnership was created to serve as a collaborative forum for our industry to ensure addressability standards that preserve privacy, provide a consistent and effective framework for advertisers and enrich the consumer experience,” Tucker said in a statement.

Pressure from the government

The ad world is teaming up to build new standards just as government officials call for an end to the way consumer data from the real-time ad auctions is used and ultimately sold.

A group of 10 senators and members of Congress wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Friday calling for an investigation into “widespread privacy violations by companies in the advertising technology that are selling private data about millions of Americans, collected without their knowledge or consent.”

Lawmakers are scrutinizing ad-tech companies’ ability to siphon data from the bidstream and sell it at a detriment to both consumers and publishers.

“This outrageous privacy violation must be stopped and the companies that are trafficking in American’s illicitly obtained private data should be shut down,” the letter read.

Lawmakers argue real-time bidding, a mechanism for targeted advertising, is flawed and needs to be regulated. The ad industry is saying it wants to build new standards so it can keep serving targeted ads, but in a privacy-safe way to appease both regulators and Big Tech.

“This initiative is about new solutions for addressability, with privacy compliance attached to it,” said Buchheim, adding that there’s an opportunity to “do something that’s better” instead of simply maintaining the status quo of online advertising.

The FTC acknowledged receipt of the letter but did not comment on next steps, including whether an investigation will take place.

“I think what that letter is aimed at are bad actors who are using data outside of how it’s supposed to be used in the programmatic ecosystem. I think anybody at this table would have a similar view of the senators, which is people shouldn’t be using data outside of what the permitted uses are in that environment,” said Ingis.

IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg said that advertising companies and the real-time bidding marketplace play a critical role in the internet economy, and that the ad industry depends on consumers who trust that their personal data is used properly.

“The IAB condemns the violation of this trust by rogue actors, and is working to further develop industry best practices to ensure that consumer privacy is protected,” Rothenberg said through a spokesperson.

Consumer privacy ranks first in the Partnership’s initial list of six guiding principles. Other include supporting competition; building standards to support business operations like frequency capping and cross-channel measurement; and building standards that are interoperable between browsers and devices.

Pressure from Google and Apple

Another guiding principle for the Partnership is that “all browsers, devices and platforms should allow equal access, free from unreasonable interference, to the new solutions.”

The ad industry has to contend with Google removing third-party cookies from its Chrome browser and Apple making its mobile identifier opt-in, which both make targeted advertising more difficult.

Google and Apple are essentially making independent decisions in the name of protecting consumer privacy, which significantly disrupt marketers’ and ad-tech companies’ current operations.

“The more likely or obvious step of regulation would be finding privacy protections that are required and ensuring that [companies] with the level of market position of an Apple or Google in their browser or operating systems don’t interfere with the operations of companies as it relates to those data practices,” said Ingis.

Ingis added that immediate next steps for the Partnership is to convene the working groups, develop charters and start initiating discussions with browsers and operating systems to “have a back and forth dialogue with them.”

@andrewblustein andrew.blustein@adweek.com Andrew Blustein is a programmatic reporter at Adweek.