Ad-tech execs and publishers see privacy/identity consumer choice as only way to compete with Facebook, Apple, Google “walled gardens”

By Bill Densmore

The “open” Internet isn’t meeting the business or privacy needs of  publishers or advertisers when compared with “walled garden” platforms such as Facebook, but efforts now underway could change that, according to participants in the second of three public webinars organized by the Information Trust Exchange Governing Association (ITEGA). 

The series, “Identity, Advertising and the Future of Journalism,” features virtual roundtables of eight discussants and public viewers. The Jan. 21 session was moderated by Wally Snyder, founder and president of the Institute for Advertising Ethics, and produced with support of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and Craig Newmark Philanthropies.  (VIEW ARCHIVED VIDEO)  A final session is set for Feb. 4.

From the remarks of their executives, it sounded as if advertising technologists believe the only way to compete with Facebook, YouTube and other technology platforms is for publishers to do two seemingly contradictory things — first, give users control over their privacy and use of data and then, be able to “address” them with targeted advertising as efficiently as Facebook claims to do. The current programmatic, real-time-bidding system, doesn’t do either, they said. 

“We have to stand up as an advertising industry and acknowledge we messed up,” said LiveRamp executive Travis Clinger. “We lost the trust of the consumer and we built a horribly inefficient ecosystem. The walled gardens focused on addressability.” He added:  “As an industry we have to lean much more into the consumer privacy changes and be much more transparent ot the consumer.” 

Opaque consumer data collection and sharing, “breadcrumbs” of data spread across the web and shared with different parties have caused the public to lose some faith in aspects of digital advertising said Jordan Mitchell, SVP, consumer privacy, identity and data for the IAB Tech Lab. He criticized unnamed browser makers (presumably Apple and Google) for a “dangerous” effort to “establish custody over the consumer” and making choices for them by changes in the way browser handle user identity. “They are for-profit companies,”  he said.  Better to have what he called “predictable privacy” through open-web standards and consumer choice over which “first party” is going to help manage their data.

A consumer privacy law that requires a consumer’s opt-in to use his/her data is worrisome in the sense that it might be hard to get such permissions, said Scott Cunningham, a consultant the Local Media Consortium (LMC), a group of 90 U.S. publishers with thousands of websites and 200 million unique monthly visitors.  LMC is seeking to assemble what Cunningham called “a communal garden around all the publishers in the United States.”

From news perspective, said Cunningham,  “I believed in the open web and in programmatic but it has not worked for news publishers. It just hasn’t. I mean It has been a race to the bottom on the CPMs…. News publishers can’t actually function in a healthy way on the open web.” 

The NewsNext goal is to change that, he said, to consolidate the independent audiences of hundreds of publishing sites so that it can be addressed easily by advertisers, to encourage users to register with email addresses “and also to acquire consent where required and needed for advertising targeting.” He added:  “The news publishers are absolutely on board with wanting to take advantage of where the privacy direction is going.”  

Ad-tech companies like LiveRamp are “just middleware” in the first-party relationships that advertisers and publishers maintain, said Clinger. “We have to take ad tech and we have to step back and not be in control.” He said it should be easy for consumers to opt-out of personalized advertising, even if that means they have less access to “free” content as a result. LiveRamp’s Authenticated Traffic Solution (ATS) for user tracking now logs in 1 in 5 Americans weekly he said. It’s time to abandon the third-party cookie and “other nefarious forms of targeting” otherwise, he said:  “In five years there won’t be an open internet if we don’t improve this. We’ll all be getting our information from Facebook and the other walled gardens.” 

Mathieu Roche, CEO of British user-identity management firm ID5, acknowledged that privacy regulation is needed. “We need to have a legal framework that forces transparency and gives consumer control,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to use personal data …. We are in data driven world.

Cunningham said LMC’s research finds that advertisers do want a way to address consumers with specific interests, and they also do not want to be accused of targeting consumers without permission.  “A federal privacy law would actually help because it would mean everyone could operate on the same page from the news publishers in aggregate and how to expose that permissioned data to marketers who are looking for it at scale.”

To the assertion that Facebook is an effective advertising medium was added two caveats.  


  • Lisa Macpherson, of the advocacy group Public Knowwledge, said advertisers should be “asking hard questions about whether programmatic is working for them on any basis other than efficiency, because of ad fraud, and viewability and ad blockers and non-quality contexts for their brands.
  • Clinger said Facebook’s performance is not audited by any third party, nor is the performance of Google advertising, which itself dominants add measurement. “This is a very big part of the problem altogether,” he said. “Brands invest because they believe it works because the platforms told them so.”