Private Gardens And Other Potential Hedges Against Data Leakage

The Sell Sider” is a column written for the sell side of the digital media community. 

Today’s column is written by Joseph Lospalluto, regional executive vice president, Americas, at Smart.

To decrease their dependence on Facebook and Google, publishers like Meredith are embracing a publisher-as-platform approach. This is yet one more example of what I like to refer to as creating “private gardens” – publisher tech stacks that activate publisher and consumer data that is protected through selective relationships with vetted, credible demand- and supply-side participants.

At the same time, P&G and other frustrated marketers insist that the programmatic marketplace clean up its act and quality issues. These market forces are pushing publishers to exploit their long-dormant mountains of first-party data.

Marketers and publishers covet first-party data and the distinct audience insights it affords. But publisher data can be siphoned by competitors and transactional partners in open exchanges and walled gardens without benefiting data owners or consumers, as evidenced by the Cambridge Analytica-Facebook controversy.

Some private marketplaces (PMPs) and programmatic guaranteed scenarios within data-protective technological infrastructures can mitigate, if not eliminate, data leakage risks.

A leaky hole in the ship

The open exchanges have consumer protections against the dissemination of personally identifiable information. But brands’ and publishers’ de-identified first-party data may not be completely anonymized, allowing reversibility and user re-identification that could be exploited by competitors or bad actors.

The most obvious and common form of data leakage occurs because of cookie synchronization requests in user retargeting and profiling. Publisher A, for example, doesn’t want Publisher B getting its distinct first-party data and feeding its algorithm for better monetization at Publisher A’s expense.

The bloated supply chain means there are many places that are prone to data leakage. The most common routes are from publisher to supply-side platform (SSP) and from SSP to demand-side platform (DSP). In many scenarios, the publisher is not duly compensated.

Fighting back

Premium publishers can create private gardens to protect first-party data, but most publishers don’t have the scale and leverage to rely strictly on PMPs and programmatic guaranteed scenarios; they will have to maintain a significant presence in the open exchanges and walled gardens for the foreseeable future.

Publishers can also focus on better contracts. It is every publisher’s legitimate right to hold its ground in contract talks with SSPs and DSPs to demand that its data is siloed from other companies’ data. Publishers should push for full transparency about what vendors do with collected publisher data. The upcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will legislate this in Europe, and the rest of the world would be wise to follow.

Each publisher should also reduce the number of point solutions it uses. An earnest commitment to rationalization of the value chain could go a long way in limiting data leakage exposure.

One source of optimism comes from the IAB’s OpenRTB 3.0, the protocol’s largest overhaul since 2010. The update, based on the GDPR framework, is aimed at improving security and trust, among other things, in programmatic advertising. The proposed framework addresses publisher data protections, including whitelisting of publishers’ trusted data providers. Overall, it is reasonable to hope that a technological solution to data leakage – similar to Ads.txt to fight domain spoofing – will reach the marketplace soon.

But beyond just relying on OpenRTB 3.0, there are also technological enhancements a publisher can execute to ensure security now. A publisher can create its own secure customer data platform for audience segmentation and push anonymized IDs to a trusted SSP that can synchronize blind user segments, but not identifiable user profiles.

By taking these precautionary measures, publishers can reduce the chances of their valuable data being used against their best interests. Data leakage is the programmatic advertising equivalent of getting your pocket picked in a crowded subway car. Responsible citizens take appropriate precautions but know they could still fall prey to pickpockets. That doesn’t stop folks from leaving the house and living their lives.

Similarly, publishers must accept a certain level of vulnerability as a part of pursuing the most profitable strategy at their disposal.

Follow Smart (@SmartAdServerEN) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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