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4 Alternatives To The Current Creepy Digital Advertising Model

Either we stick to the behavioural advertising in its current form (being illegal according to the Belgian data authorities), where detailed data about us are tracked, profiled targeted and shared, or we will have to pay for content. This is the conventional thinking, either or. But a new report from Panoptykon Foundation points to 4 alternatives, some of which are already doing well, which could be adopted by publishers, who wants to get out of the current model, where they share data about their customers with thousands of other entities in the AdTech system.

The four modelse, security-oriented targetingl  first-party targeting, publishers’ collaborations, and contextual targeting are presented below.

  1. Security-oriented targetig is about targetting ads not to individuals but to interest groups that users belong to. Either the browser company or an independant gatekeeper should be responsible for monitoring and analysing patterns of users’ behaviours across different websites, and creating cohorts of similar users (“flocks”). Google is working on this with ‘Privacy Sandbox’ and wants browsers to be responsible whereas the competitor Criteo, who’se project Sparrow argues for an independent gatekeeper to facilitate auctions towards the flock. The Brave browser has year ago introduced a model that combines security-oriented advertising and micropayment, where data is not shared with advertisers.
    The Panoptykon report states that this solution do not address concerns that go beyond security such as discrimination, unfairness, or lack of transparency and the consumer experiencing it as creepy.
  2. First party targeting Browsers like Safari and Firefox (which is highly recommended) are already blocking third-party cookies (also called marketing cookies who are shaing data) by default. In the wake of that Google has announced it will do the same in 2022. Data from first-party cookies, which is used e.g. to remember your password or what you put into your shopping cart, is data you get directly from the user, and is not cross shared. It is based on a direct relationship between the website and the user and can be used for less intrusive targetting.  According to the report,  Zeus Insights is a first-party targeting platform developed by the Washington Post, a similar example is Forte built by Vox Media.
  3. Joint advertisers platforms. In stead of depending on the current system, where publishers can get as little ad 30% of the ad budget, they could join forces. It is already happening, e.g. with TrustX, owned by Digital Content Next – a US non-profit publishers’ trade association and The Ozone project with over 90 of the UK’s premium publishers, such as The Guardian or The Telegraph. Data sharing collaborations and joint advertising platforms also exist in France (La Place Media), Czech Republic (CPEx) and Denmark (DPN). However, “simply creating more competition will not address the pathologies of behavioural targeting. Quite the contrary – it may further exacerbate them,” according to the report.
  4. Contextual targeting was widely used before cookies and real-time bidding took over. Ads are targeted to the keywords we put into search on the website. Data is not used for profiling and targeting and the method is thus GDPR compliant and thus gaining traction. Search engines like Qwant and Duckduckgo depend on contextual targetting. Google Search does not. The report also points to real-life evidence about this models’ advantages: after opting for contextual advertising the Dutch public broadcaster saw a 68% monthly average revenue increase and publishers working with a Norwegian contextual advertising platform were paid on average 2.3 times more for contextual ads than for behavioural ads.

According to Panoptykon, the ad tech industry is under scrutiny by data protection authorities in 17 EU jurisdiction, but the business carries on as usual, becuase the regulators are not doing enough, and the report recommends:

“In order to break this vicious circle, apart from enforcing the GDPR, the EU should adopt a systemic regulatory response aimed at fixing the root cause and not the symptoms of the problem. A coherent regulatory framework would include both:

  • a prohibition on cross-site tracking and targeting in the ePrivacy regulation, and
  • an effective restriction of the online platforms’ power to gather data in the Digital Services Act package.”

Get the full report which is sponsored by Mozilla Foundation.