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blog: Don Marti

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Ad reform and consent

12 December 2018

If adtech consent is so hard, will Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) on the web even be a thing once we fix the long-standing browser bugs that allow users to be tracked without their knowledge?

After all, OBA advocates have been trying to sell people on the benefits of being tracked for as long as ads have been obviously "following" people from one site to another and raising concerns. So why won't regular people learn that this is all for their own good? By now we should have a comfortable pro-OBA user base, right? Instead, there's still a stubborn majority against having your activity on one site follow you to another one, and when PERFECTLY REASONABLE WE ARE DOING THIS FOR YOUR OWN GOOD WOULD YOU SHUT UP ABOUT PRIVACY AND JUST CONNECT AND SHARE WITH BRANDS YOU LOVE ALREADY ad tracking practices do make the news, it's as part of a Holy shit, you have WHAT information on my kids, you sneaky nerds? story.

Where is ad reform going? What's probably going to happen is that browsers are going to support the OBA that users give their informed consent to, but there's just going to be less ad inventory available to buy that way, because only about 1/3 of browser users approve of cross-site tracking.

Browsers have the opportunity to improve consent UX to fill in the gap between their users' widely held norms about how personal information is used and the uses that people are willing to "I Agree" to or be "OK" with in order to make a pop-up go away. Today, if you're building a user interface, you have the choice of:

(1) accurately discerning the user's preferences on data use

(2) tricking the user into giving "consent" to practices that the user would not agree with if understood.

So why does everybody go with number 2? Especially web publishers. Problematic data practices are not just a violation of user norms, but an threat to ad-supported sites. If you're running a site that depends on reputation, it's to your disadvantage to allow your audience to be tracked elsewhere.

That last point is not just me nerding out over obscure economic points. Everyone who is successful in web advertising knows that you have to defend user data once you have it. Facebook famously closed down app access to social data. Amazon stopped sending email receipts, to keep email services from targeting people with ads based on their Amazon shopping habits. Google’s Ads Data Hub restricts how advertisers can combine Google and non-Google data.

Why are web publishers—the set of players who are most hurting here—the exception to the defense rule? It could be because of the technical landscape. Incumbent tech companies have built publisher-hostile web clients in order to advantage some kinds of ad placements As a side effect we also have a brand-hostile environment and a brand crisis. (Targeted advertising media are designed for direct response and deceptive ads, and don't work for the 60% of ad spending that needs to go to brand building)

The big opportunity now is for reputation-based players—publishers and brands—to use the defensive opportunities now afforded by browser privacy improvements and by privacy regulations.

Part of this could be an "objection amplifier" to balance out the "consent amplifier" effect of bad consent UX. If I go to a publisher site, or brand site, and they give me a meaningful choice on how my data is used, the publisher is putting themselves at a disadvantage if they respect my decision while others get deceptive consent.

So how to handle the built-in disadvantage for honest consent requests?

If you capture a solid "I do not consent" from a person, then don't waste it. Ask the person for a digital signature on an objection to every DMP on the Lumascape, and send it to the DMPs. And log it, and use it when you're selling ads make sure to include the point that "We have people on this site that the DMPs don't have, and aren't allowed to. Want to reach our audience? Talk to us."

Running a third-party processor to enable this is one of the biggest opportunities for the post-creepy Lumascape. Needs a TLA, though. OAP? Objection Amplification Platform?

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