Muki’s AdTech Diary May 2024

Trust, Tech and Transparency

The recent weeks have been full of highlights, if you enjoy public scandals. Shortly after the forbes subdomain report, another report by Adalytics confronted Colossus SSP with allegations that they enrich bid requests with valuable user ids from other bid requests was published. Colossus SSP is taking legal actions against Adalytics, claiming the analysis is wrong. Gareth picked this up in his latest newsletter „The Ad Tech Guide To Giving A S@#!„, which is a must read for anyone in ad tech. In the meantime Google had a “hold my beer“ moment. The latest CMA report raised even more concerns than the last one, and if that wasn´t enough, Google unintentionally showcased a major issue in the Privacy Sandbox by deploying a faulty configuration, which shut down the privacy sandbox API all together. See these comments for more details on why this is more than just a bug. Nevertheless, kudos to Google for showing up in the public.

The last inspiring piece, closely related to Gareth’s post, came from FouAnalytics. The TL;DR is that your cookie match rates are trash –  rolling a dice can be more accurate when guessing binary features like gender (disclaimer: I don’t think gender is binary, but most targeting systems do).

What now?

The title suggests what connects all these stories. A lack of transparency and trust in tech that fails to meet its promises. I’m by no means an ad tech veteran, but I started at the inception of Prebid. My observation is that we, as an industry, attempted to solve the lack of trust by adding more partners to monitor each other.  Advertisers have a fleet of brand safety and quality tools, while publishers add partners to protect users from fraudulent ads and collaborate with analytic providers to double check their monetization.

This has created a complex web of relationships that makes it easier than ever to hide fraudulent behaviour. It’s easier to find a partner in crime because the benefits are  easily measured, and the overall outlook is bleak.. This is the open web. On the other hand, we have Google and Meta offering a “black box” solution, essentially saying “ trust us“. This doesn’t work. As a profit oriented company with a near monopoly position, it’s more than obvious you would try to exploit this. That’s not meant to be an accusation – it´s simply howcapitalism works. There are spicier takes to read out there.

How do we get out of this?

Here are some suggestions, or rather hopes, how the open web stays relevant. Credits go, again, to Gareth’s great post, which I couldn’t agree more.

  • Standards. Open RTB is great, but we had standards for ad inventory. We don’t even have a common vocabulary. sidebar, skyscraper, side rail, sticky thing? Also I like how Germans still randomly use TKP (=CPM). We have standardisation bodies like the IAB, but also the coalition for better ads
  • Compliance & due diligence. Standards are great, but if you don’t enforce them, they are useless. The IAB TCF standard is, in my opinion, a great success story. CMPs now compete based on the merits of their products rather than on finding weird consent hacks to optimize revenue.. Publishers can migrate CMPs with relatively low effort. If you want to become an IAB TCF compliant CMP vendor, the IAB certifies you and ensures you adhere to the standard. I don’t say it’s perfect, but it’s practical.
  • Open Source implementations. Standards should be usable and implementations should be freely available. Prebid is already in a position to take up this task. And again, the IAB provided a TCF implementation as well, making it easy to start an API compliant CMP business.


You know what might happen? My browser might stop sending 900 requests for a page with just five ad slots (looking at you Domains could be rated by their ad load, allowing advertisers to decide if they want to buy cheap inventory on a site with MFA characteristics or not. Maybe I could read a recipe without scrolling past 10 ads and sliding away two videos (pro tip: bookmark the print version). But most importantly: ad spend could shift to the open web because, let’s be honest, Meta, Google, Amazon and Tiktok are all applying MFA patterns all the way.

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