BPA Calls on Advertisers to Help Publishers Protect Data

The digital ecosystem needs to 'stop harvesting our data'

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"Publishers are watching as third parties are building audience products using their data." Getty Images
Headshot of Ethan Wu

Nearly 20 business publishers called on the digital media ecosystem to curtail data leakage in online ad auctions, signing on to an open letter published earlier this week by media auditor BPA Worldwide. 

The letter, co-signed by publishers including Adweek, experiential company Questex and b-to-b marketing firm Bombora, states that the real-time ad bidding protocol exposes publishers to audience data breaches. Such data leakage is “putting our key asset at risk.”

Online ad auctions operate in a process where publishers ask advertisers to bid on specific ad inventory by sending audience data to marketplaces, such as an ad exchange, where the buy-side players make purchase decisions based on the data they see.

Media buyers can purchase just a small fraction of the ads they look at. But they can access publisher data for all ad opportunities on offer, not just the ones they buy. Porous contracts and lax enforcement mean less scrupulous buyers are able to build imitation datasets at a discount. For publications that reach an influential business readership, audience data is especially valuable, and such practices can critically undermine their value proposition.

“The publishing industry speaks with a unified voice in saying this practice must stop immediately”

The BPA is now calling for third-party ad-tech players to immediately halt harvesting publisher data they obtain in the bidstream to create data offerings that compete directly with business publishers’ commercial interests. 

“To be perfectly clear, without publisher permission, third parties have no contractual right to use this data to create derivative works,” the letter stated. “The publishing industry speaks with a unified voice in saying this practice must stop immediately.”

“The overall issue is the loss of revenue—both real and potential—to the derivative works created by bidstream data leakage,” Glenn Hansen, president and CEO of the BPA, told Adweek. “Publishers are watching as third parties are building audience products using their data without consent from either publisher or consumer.”

Rob Beeler, CEO of ad-tech consultancy Beeler.Tech, told Adweek that b-to-b publishers have to be increasingly aware of their obligations under privacy legislation such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, as well as the California Consumer Privacy Act, which is enforceable beginning July 1

Additionally, the ongoing decline of third-party cookies as an audience-targeting tool has raised awareness of the commercial advantages of ring-fencing first-party data. “If you have good data, you have to protect it now more than ever,” Beeler said. “In the future, with the death of the third-party cookie, you have to think about how you identify people.”

The BPA is looking to host virtual town halls and establish industry standards for contractual clarity and data integrity. Success could deliver much-needed revenue to publishers, some of which have been hit hard by Covid-19.

Research by the IAB found that two-thirds of publishers are seeing a drop in ad prices. Many reported falling revenue beginning in March. “We all have a vested interest, now more than ever, to build on the collective partnerships of trust and integrity,” according to the letter.

Read the full letter here.


Ethan Wu is an intern on Adweek’s media team. He is also a rising senior studying economics at Cornell University.
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