The market for 3rd party audience data continues to grow, but I'm seeing evidence of illicit activities that are somewhat reminiscent of the adware/spyware activities of 2003-2005. It's disconcerting, because the 3rd party data market has developed the right way so far -- for ALL parties involved, and especially for publishers. But we are now at a point where a few bad apples could spoil the whole bunch, and are causing new challenges for premium publishers.
In the last two weeks, I've been in San Francisco and New York, taking part in 3 different online advertising conferences, and meeting with top 3rd party data companies (such as eXelate, BlueKai, AlmondNet, TargusInfo, Rapleaf, etc.), ad networks, and publishers. A few observations ...
First, I'm starting to see more evidence of illicit data collection from publishers. Just as we saw advertising-based applications illicitly installed on consumer's computers 5 years ago, collecting consumer browsing behavior (without knowledge of the publisher or consumer), valuable audience data is being taken from premium publishers and used by 3rd parties without the knowledge nor the remuneration of the publisher. It's being done via ad tags, which if not properly reviewed/screened, may contain Web beacons that pass audience data to ad networks, advertisers and 3rd party data partners for re-targeting, re-use, etc.
As a result, premium publishers need to be on the lookout for unscrupulous ad networks and advertisers that bring short-term revenue lift but then leave with valuable audience data. And as the market for data expands and $ start to really flow, 3rd party data partners will need to be extra careful to control their data sources/channels. When publishers see these 3rd party Web beacons showing up on their pages via ad tags, it casts a negative light on otherwise reputable data companies -- not the advertiser or ad network who passed the data to the data company in exchange for payment.
Lastly, I was discouraged to hear that some unscrupulous advertisers are buying cheap run-of-network inventory via ad exchanges and running the NAI "opt-out" scripts within ad tags. Just as 5 years ago when spyware companies were detecting/uninstalling competing applications as an offensive maneuver, seems now we're seeing companies attempting to reduce the targetable population for their competition, increase their data acquisition costs, etc.
In the online advertising market where "audience" has emerged as king, safeguarding audience data is quickly becoming a core challenge/risk for premium publishers. This makes it doubly important for publishers to control their sales channels, work with trusted partners only, and leverage technology approaches to ad quality -- all hard things to do for publishers already burdened with increasing ad sales and operations challenges. Yet another reason why premium publishers will increasingly turn to sell-side technology platforms like REVV for Publishers. And for those publishers that don't, they not only risk their own brand and core data assets, they also impede the proper development of the market as a whole.