Bigger Doesn’t Mean Better: Why We Should Look Beyond Tech Giants For Ad Solutions

By Aqilliz  

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Surprise, surprise — or perhaps not. 2021 is off to an interesting start for Silicon Valley’s towering giants as they grapple with increasing scrutiny from regulators around the world. January kicked off with Australia’s proposed News Media Bargaining Code which has onlookers anxiously awaiting as to whether Google’s 95 percent market share of the domestic search sector will be challenged for good.

In the past few weeks, the European Union’s lead data protection supervisor (EDPS) Wojciech Wiewiórowski has joined the fray, recommending a ban on “surveillance-based targeted ads'' in line with the European Commission’s Digital Services Act. Introduced last December, the Act is far-reaching: beyond being applicable to all 27 member states, it touches on areas spanning the use of AI and transparency in political advertising with expansive consequences impacting not only digital platforms across search and social, but also e-commerce.

Described as battle lines being decisively drawn in what’s set to be a new era for the digital economy, everything is at stake and marketers need to move fast.

Playing by the rules

Data, data, data. It’s good for a lot of things, but only if you can use it safely and securely. In a bid to uncover opaque data use practices, the United States’ Federal Trade Commission contacted social media and internet companies demanding to know more about how they’re collecting, storing, and leveraging customer data. Beyond antitrust concerns, legitimate worries pertaining to data compliance will easily extend to brands and advertising relying on these platforms.

Beyond transparency of data usage practices, the EDPS also points out the need for long-term measures that advocate for a phase-out and an eventual altogether elimination of targeted advertising based on pervasive tracking, as well as the need for restrictions on the types of data that can be used for such practices, indicating further potential changes to frameworks such as the General Data Protection Regulation.

Naturally, this heightened emphasis on privacy has led to other infrastructural changes among big tech players. The elimination of third-party cookies, for example, has prompted Google’s own work on a Privacy Sandbox. However, this too comes as a double-edged sword as our CEO G’man argues: “The open web as we see it will gradually subsume into a bunch of walled gardens, each having its own methodology to safeguard privacy and having its own strike rate on the extent of personalisation”.

With ad targeting alternatives either limited to specific browser environments or limited to different data sets offered by disparate consortia of publishers, such solutions only fragment the digital environment further. Though more privacy-centric — and don’t get us wrong, we’re all for more privacy — this won’t make the digital advertising space any smarter or any more efficient.

Closing the gate on gatekeepers

To move forward, the industry will need to do something drastic: we need to leave the old ways behind. No longer reliant on existing infrastructures or preferential networks, we need to go beyond that, tearing down the walled gardens of old for something better. A system that’s devoid of a centralised authority, interoperable and not restricted to a single platform is one that can withstand the threat of consolidation and enable coopetition, rather than anti-competitive behaviour.

Instead, a collaborative model that is built with compliance at the heart of its infrastructure is key. A system powered by blockchain, for one, offers the necessary auditing and compliance capabilities stipulated in some of the world’s most demanding data privacy frameworks. Whether it’s GDPR, CCPA, or any other legislation on the horizon, being able to provide a clear record of how data has been collected, for what reason, for how long, and from whom, will be essential.

With blockchain designed to enable trustless collaboration, a data federation consisting of brands and publishers ensures that each participant automatically carries equal say in how data sharing can take place within the network. Every transaction would be evaluated based on pre-agreed terms and could be executed automatically with smart contracts — self-executing agreements that only take place if certain conditions are met. These contracts could also assess data quality, ensuring that only data points and data sets that are of a certain standard when it comes to consent or other critical metrics, can be viewed and exchanged among federation members.

The digital economy as we know it today has been built on uneven footing and time is ticking for the marketers of today, as much as those of tomorrow. If the past year has shown us anything, it’s that efforts at self-regulating a flawed system can only get us so far — users, shoppers, regulators, and businesses are losing patience and we need an open web that’s truly for the people, by the people. With today’s infrastructures no longer able to provide the same longevity and reassurance as they once did in the past, we need to not only seek out, but build these alternatives for ourselves.

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