Seller-Defined Audience Is Better Than Google Topics. Here’s Why

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

Today’s column is written by Stephanie Layser, VP of data, identity and ad tech at News Corp

Recently, Google introduced Topics API, a proposal for interest-based advertising. While Topics is a significant improvement from Google’s initial idea, FLoC, there are still questions about whether Topics hits the mark from a consumer’s or publisher’s perspective.

Topics improves some aspects of user privacy with features like predetermining topics, limiting the number of topics that a site will receive and inserting randomizing effects. 

But the problem is, with enough data points, Google and intermediaries could easily overlay Topics across contexts to reidentify users. This negates many of the privacy benefits Google is trying to accomplish.

Additionally, Topics continues to enable cross-domain data collection and targeting, often at the detriment to publishers with unique content. For example, you can assume visitors to Realtor.com are interested in real estate and may end up in the “Real Estate” Topic. That data then gets shared across the internet. But instead of advertisers buying ads where that data lives, they are able to target that particular user elsewhere on the internet.

Topics API continues to play into the misconception that advertisers can buy the “same” audience they’d find on The Wall Street Journal elsewhere, cheaper. That premise hasn’t served advertisers well, and it has disproportionately rewarded clever ad fraudsters instead of genuinely good publishers. This approach ignores context and the quality of the content. There has to be a better way.

As a publisher, I like what IAB Tech Lab is proposing more than Topics API. It’s called Seller-Defined Audiences (SDA) – and it’s better for everybody.

SDA benefits the entire industry

First and foremost, Seller-Defined Audiences is better for consumer privacy. It relies on existing open standards like IAB Tech Lab’s Content and Audience taxonomies, the OpenRTB specification and the Data Transparency Standard in a way that promotes privacy-centric addressability and first-party data monetization. 

SDA leaves the data where it is created. It’s treated purely as first-party data, and it’s not shared across domains. It’s a solution that even privacy advocates would support, since advertising would only pertain to the domain the user is on.

Consumers want privacy, addressability and relevant advertising even if they don’t exactly know how to ask for it. That feeling of being tracked around the internet won’t happen with Seller-Defined Audiences. Ads will be contextually relevant in a way that feels natural to the user. 

SDA is better for advertisers, too.

Open standards incentivize transparent and accountable data access and use that’s consistent with regional privacy expectations. That makes abiding by regulations easier to manage. It also means advertisers have a choice outside of platform solutions, offering them a way to get scale without sacrificing quality. They can also rest assured their money is keeping quality publishers running, rather than being siphoned off by intermediaries who aren’t adding value. 

And finally, publishers can benefit from Seller-Defined Audiences as well.

An opportunity exists with the death of the cookie for media to be truly tied to data, rewarding quality publishers for their engagement and relationship with readers. 

If you want better-quality data, you must purchase it on the site where it originated. This approach is also much more aligned with what advertisers actually need, because if a publisher’s data is genuinely better, it will perform better. The RTB algorithms will optimize toward quality, not price. People who publish better content will be rewarded for their efforts.

And SDA is more in the spirit of what the best privacy regulation calls for because it prioritizes the first-party relationship between publishers and consumers – and not just a random collection of tags and pixels someone jammed into the HTML. 

Seller-Defined Audiences is better for the entire advertising ecosystem.

The future of the internet can be more privacy safe and better for quality publishers if we build it around solutions that reward the content creators, like Seller-Defined Audiences.

Follow Steph Layser (@slayser8), News Corp (@newscorp) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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