Results tagged “Technology” from IABlog

The Power of Open Source Collaboration: We Need You

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Overview
There is a major demand in our industry today when it comes to providing tools and code needed to implement technical specifications. In order to help fill that gap, as well as provide transparency, certification and validation in the marketplace, IAB created structures such as its newly formed Tech Lab to augment the written specifications it currently produces. The IAB Tech Lab is tasked with researching and defining the necessary Open Source tools and code needed to quickly and easily put such specifications into practice. The lab is built around three core pillars: specifications, protocols, certification and tools. The “Tools” pillar, the focus of this post, is comprised of three different elements:

  1. Tools.jpgThe IAB CodeBank: The advertising industry’s repository of Open Source code, tools and implementation solutions;
  2. An Open Source network of developers which collaborates with the Tech Lab, donating their time, development cycles and resources to issues of interest to the IAB community; and
  3. A platform of utilities and testing tools that allow members to work with the specifications the IAB produces in order to help solve their real-world implementation needs.
One of the tools in this newly formed toolbox is the IAB’s SafeFrame technology, a managed API-enabled iframe-like vehicle that opens a line of communication between the publisher’s page and externally framed content such as ads. The bad news is that since its inception, the support materials surrounding SafeFrame has been limited to human-readable documentation, code excerpts and loosely coupled specifications. The good news is that is about to change. Since June of this past year, IAB members, Open Source developers, and technology enthusiasts have all banded together to jump start this important technology; and the results have been substantial. In six months, testing tools have been created. Roadmaps, both product technology as well as adoption, have been defined. Use cases are being created. Documentation updated.  In short, what had been an idle idea has now gotten an infusion of life thanks to the power of Open Source collaboration.

Contributions from IAB Members
In order for the industry to succeed as a whole, the IAB must be responsible for producing and promoting code that supports its standards, and do so with the help of the community in order to gain traction, as well as adoption. But, just supplying them with code is not enough. Ancillary products such as testing tools and other supporting materials must be part of the mix. In other words, what good is a piece of code if you have no way of ensuring that it will hold up to its intended purpose? This was one of the major roadblocks that prevented SafeFrame from moving ahead.

This is not to imply that the SafeFrame technology has been laying dormant for the last year. On the contrary, IAB members have been actively working with it, but in their own proprietary way. Microsoft and Yahoo have both integrated the SafeFrame technology in one form or another in several of their products. The problem though is that these integrations leverage each company’s own in-house technology and does not lend itself to a robust, general purpose solution that others can easily implement on their own. With that said, we know that without proprietary innovation, general standards lay dormant. The first step in any evolution is the need to fill a void. For Microsoft and Yahoo, their needs focused around “providing a solution to enable 3rd party ads while preserving user privacy and security, and doing so with least amount of work for their publishers and properties” and leveraging a technology that offered the end user with a platform that could ensure accountability, respectively.

Prabahakar Goyal, Chief Architect of Display Advertising at Microsoft, and one of the original authors of the SafeFrame utilizes this technology from a practical standpoint:

Safeframe is a standard which enables publishers to include 3rd party advertisements, including advanced ad formats such as richmedia, while mitigating the risk of data leakage or broken page because of the ad and page content interferences. It also provides a standard way to measure viewability across cross-domain iFRAME. Most recently we have deployed SafeFrame on one of our largest properties - Outlook. This is laying the foundation for serving 3rd party ads while making sure that our user’s data is protected and privacy is maintained.

Sean Snider, Senior Web Software Engineer at Yahoo and the original SafeFrame co-author currently leverages SafeFrame at Yahoo by integrating it into their core mindset:

“One of the largest benefits of digital advertising is how dynamic it is. The entire industry works toward delivering the most relevant and captivating advertisements to individual users. But being that dynamic comes with huge tradeoffs in terms of level off effort, safety, privacy, and consistent metrics. The whole idea with SafeFrame, is to have a foundation on the web for such advertising to reside, so that we can mitigate those tradeoffs, as well as move towards the future. Rolling out and developing SafeFrame and other standardizing technologies like it, is in of itself a large challenge. And that’s why it’s a very big win, for the IAB to take a leadership role creating and managing the technology required. Standards and specifications are the first step, but it’s critical to have open technology platforms that enforce and deliver on those standards.”

Without the proprietary work that is going on at companies like Microsoft and Yahoo, the community doesn’t move forward, and no one benefits. Luckily for IAB members, the creators of these types of solutions also happen to be the co-authors of the Open Source version of SafeFrame as well.

Contributions from Non-IAB Members
Because of the historical scarceness around support for SafeFrame in the past, Open Source developers began experimenting on their own, and needless to say, out of necessity came innovation. One company in particular, Streamwize spent so much time creating one-off solutions they took it upon themselves to write their own SafeFrame testing tool:

“The ‘Patcher’ is the first in a series of tools and services being offered by Streamwize to help accelerate and simplify SafeFrame adoption by both advertisers and publishers and raise the floor of ad capabilities for the industry. It is an enhanced, open source web-based tool that advertisers can use to inject, test and view their creatives on nearly any web site with both SafeFrame and Friendly iFrame simultaneous format support. Within the tool, you simply put your own creative code snippet or ad tag, the web site you wish to target for testing and either auto select or enter the CSS expression of where the creative will be rendered on the targeted web site page. The tool supports all IAB layout designs including floating lightboxes and expanded ads as well as the ability to define height and width. It then works by proxying any selected URL, injecting the SafeFrame publisher-side framework into the web site, and then loading the selected creative into the specified location. You also get a unique URL you can share with others so they can also see how your creative would look and operate, in context on the targeted website before certification or client review. 

Streamwize is further developing tools for publishers to ease the transition to SafeFrame by allowing them to simultaneously support SafeFrame with older standards until they are ready to make a full switch over to SafeFrame. Building tools for both publishers and advertisers on top of SafeFrame allows publisher and advertisers to leverage some of its advantageous features, including support for measurement and contextual advertising. 

Such is the critical importance of SafeFrame adoption across the industry in dealing with thorny issues such as mitigating publisher risk, consumer protection and viewability, that Streamwize will offer the “Patcher” tool free and will shortly be launching a dedicated web site to showcase why it is committed to the SafeFrame cause and it’s growing capabilities and benefits for advertisers and publishers.”

Another company, SquareOffs, interested in implementing SafeFrame but didn’t know where to look for help, reached out to the IAB and donated their developers’ time to work with us in order to implement SafeFrame directly into their product. What may have taken them weeks to do with little success was overcome in a matter of days working directly with Chris Cole, SafeFrame’s chief developer. According to SquareOffs CEO Jeff Rohr:

“The way that the IAB has been willing to work with real world companies on the ground is remarkable. SquareOffs is extremely grateful to be one of the first participants in the IAB Tech Lab and we are delighted that they see the huge win-win scenario going on here. It’s so valuable for an organization, such as the IAB, to experience the gaps and pitfalls present with any specification (or product) in it’s infancy that would never come up on a whiteboard. Getting out of the building and obtaining a big enough sample size of feedback is crucial to defining whether the needs are truly being met. We are glad that the IAB is taking this head on, while being wise enough to realize that a collective group approaching a problem from many different angles will reach the goals of the project and produce thorough documentation at a much faster pace.

SquareOffs has reached two product initiatives in our embedded debate technology at warp speed thanks to the IAB and Chris Cole: the ability for our embed to expand onto the page and the ability to dynamically match the content of the page where the embed is placed. Both of these enhancements directly impact our customer base and will be showing up much earlier than expected on sites near you. Our iframe solution would not allow for these capabilities and building a javascript solution to accomplish them would have come with much more overhead. The implementation of this new technology was a smooth process and we look forward to giving back to the community by documenting our use cases and those that come in the future.”

It is the collaborative efforts of companies like Streamwize and SquareOffs, in addition to their drive, passion and innovation that make the difference in whether a piece of technology ever sees the light of day, and really ever truly succeeds.

We Need You
Microsoft, Yahoo, Streamwize, and SquareOffs are only the beginning of the story. Much more work is needed in order to ensure technology such as SafeFrame makes it to the marketplace. The power of Open Source collaboration is unquestionable, but the realization of it takes time, effort and commitment. The IAB, with the creation of the Tech Lab, understands this, but it only works if our companies and individuals alike step up and push the boundaries of what is possible, so together we can collectively “raise the floor” on what can be done.

In closing, it should go without saying that the IAB can no longer simply sit back and rest on the laurels that it has produced best-of-breed standards. It must take a much more active approach and involvement in order to support the industry it serves. This means it must also execute on the specifications it delivers. Must roll up its sleeves and place “hands on keyboard” if ever it is to help its members succeed. The main impetus for the creation of the IAB Tech Lab was to provide an open environment where members could contribute, learn and grow in a collaborative manner. The only piece that is still missing… is you.


About the Author

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Alan Turransky

Alan Turransky is the Senior Director of Technology and Ad Operations at IAB.



 

IAB and the Future of the Cookie: Evolving to meet Market Realities

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A few years ago, the demise of the cookie was the chief worry on everyone’s mind. Marketers, agencies and publishers all struggled to imagine a future where they were able to continue delivering the seamless, connected experiences (that consumers have come to expect) in a world where the core technology supporting these strategies (the cookie) no longer existed. 

In 2012 the IAB formed the Future of the Cookie Working Group to address these issues - adding to them, the context of consumer privacy, publisher control, and other principles. 

In the “Privacy and Tracking in a Post-Cookie World” whitepaper, the group established five technology classes that described existing and emerging state management technologies, and evaluated their impact on consumers, publishers, and other industry participants. Thanks in part to the important work of this group, industry adoption and comfort with a variety of state management technologies, including the cookie, has become the norm.  

As we look ahead to 2015 and the current discussion and needs of the market, two main streams of work remain. In response to this and our members’ needs, the IAB is sun setting the Future of the Cookie Working Group to tackle these two streams of work more efficiently:  

1.  Data

Now that buyers and sellers have become more familiar with cookie-replacement technologies, and many are choosing to create their own proprietary solutions, a larger business and process discussion about audience engagement and the usage of audience data has emerged. Where the need was previously to understand the available technology choices, now many in the market are focused on gaining clarity around the new techniques, and best practices, for use and control of audience data in this developing cross-platform landscape. Including, but not limited to, the use of audience identifiers - the IAB’s Data Council will be home to continued discussions and guidance for how we can all be good data stewards. This will undoubtedly include timely issues such as data quality, protection, control and using data to inform an overall digital strategy. 

2.  Technology

Understanding the available technology has been a core effort of the Future of the Cookie working group.  With the IAB Tech Lab, we have a natural forum for continued evaluation of state management technologies, and the opportunity to bring together technical experts to develop resources and guidance for implementation.  

The IAB Tech Lab spearheads the development of technical specifications, creates and maintains a code library to assist in rapid, cost-effective implementation of IAB specifications and guidelines, and establishes a test platform for companies to evaluate the compatibility of their technology solutions with IAB protocols.   

As we move forward, these two groups will address the breadth of technologies that are available for understanding audience behavior and continue to provide guidance and leadership in those realms. So with that, we would like to extend a sincere and hearty “THANK YOU” to the more than 200 individuals, companies, members and non-members who contributed to the Future of the Cookie initiative. Also worth some praise are our stellar initial cast of co-chairs who truly contributed blood, sweat, and more acronyms than we can mention here:

  • Jordan Mitchell, VP Product, Rubicon
  • Amy Kuznicki, Associate Director, Verizon
  • Susan Pierce, Engineering Manager, Google
  • Matt Tengler, SVP Product, Millennial Media
  • Phillip Smolin, SVP Market Solutions, TURN

About the Authors

Anna Bager


Anna Bager

Anna Bager is Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence at the IAB. You can tweet her @AnnaBager.


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Scott Cunningham

Scott Cunningham is Vice President of Technology and Ad Operations at the Interactive Advertising Bureau






 
Although Integral has been on the forefront of the fight against impression fraud in the digital advertising industry, I have been largely silent on the topic.  Despite that I’m a battle-scarred ad tech vet with strong opinions, I have been quiet because I know that many will perceive my words as biased due to Integral’s role in fraud prevention.  Two recent incidents, however, prompted me to end my silence.  Some will be surprised by my conclusions.

For the record, my definition of impression fraud - as recognized by the IAB - is a situation where an advertiser buys a digital ad that has zero chance of being seen by a human.  Fraud comes in many flavors, including ad stacking, whole websites stuffed into non-viewable i-frames, and botnets of infected consumers’ computers, which surreptitiously mimic humans’ surfing behavior.  Although all cause harm to the advertising ecosystem, I will be referring mainly to bot traffic here as we believe it’s the most common form of fraud and probably the hardest to detect.

The first aforementioned incident that caused me to speak out was a call I received from an old colleague who runs a media company that produces valuable fitness-related content.  He called me in panic because he was told by one of his big clients that they were discontinuing advertising with his company.  Their reason was that a technology vendor had found that 100 percent of his site’s impressions were fraudulent.  Given what I knew of the site, 100 percent fraudulent traffic sounded improbable.  I quickly offered to help by running a test on his site.  The results showed that my former colleague’s site did have some fraud, but the levels were closer to 20 percent.  It became quite clear that the technology vendor measuring fraud was labeling a lot of legitimate inventory (in this case 80 percent) as bad inventory.  I thought that this may have been an isolated case, but with further investigation, I found that this was happening to a lot of other publishers as well.  Sites that had even a modicum of fraud were being labeled as fraudulent by this well-known vendor.  

This issue seemed like a micro-level problem to me.  Human traffic was being incorrectly categorized as bot traffic on domains with any level of fraud, and while unfortunate, only impacted those sites affected.  The second incident, a call from an investment bank research analyst, made me realize that there is a macro-issue at play as well.  This bank was putting the final touches on its special report on the state of digital media and wanted me to verify that the annual loss from impression fraud in the online display ad industry was over $20 billion.  Say what?  I have read some pretty aggressive predictions around the dollars lost to fraud, but $20 billion?  That estimate is way too high. 

So, I feel I need to come forward and take a stand.  Fraud is a problem in the online advertising industry, but NOT a problem of this magnitude.  Whether on purpose or not, the fraud problem is being exaggerated.  We have a problem, but it’s been blown out of proportion and it’s not as big as what we read.  There, I said it.  A year ago, I was concerned because I felt that the industry was not talking enough about the fraud problem, and now, I am worried about the opposite.  If we’re not careful, we are going to get carried away and cause irreparable harm to the future of digital advertising.

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So how did we get here exactly?  I put the blame into a couple of categories.  The first category has to do with limitations in technology.  The unnamed vendor labeling my former colleague’s website as having 100 percent fraudulent traffic is a good example of technological limitations.  In this case, the vendor correctly detected some fraudulent activity, but extrapolated this information to the domain or site level.  In other words, bot-related fraud happens at a user level (an infected computer), but due to technical restrictions, it is often tied to a domain level (e.g., fitness-related-site.com).  To make matters worse, many solutions only have two classifications of the entire site: fraudulent or clean.  Thus, if the solution sees any reasonable fraction of fraudulent impressions on a website, it has to make a decision to label the site as fraudulent or clean.  The threshold for fraud is typically set quite low in order to eliminate as much bot traffic as possible.  The end result is that a relatively few fraudulent visitors can cause a vendor to mislabel a large percentage of normal impressions fraudulent.  And as most fraud appears on legitimate sites that are buying traffic (a portion of which turns out to be non-human), as opposed to whole fake sites with 100% fraudulent traffic, this mis-labeling is very common.  When you start to aggregate these mis-labeled statistics and extrapolate on what it means industry-wide on a percentage of total impressions, the amount of fraud present looks downright scary.  Then, if you apply industry average CPMs to these extrapolated estimates (despite the fact that fraudulent inventory is usually cheaper than average), suddenly $20 billion appears plausible. 

So, what’s the alternative to rolling up fraud statistics and detecting at the domain level?  The better option is to intercept the ad call as soon as you detect a fraudulent user and thus only block the one ad from serving to this specific bot.  However, you need to do this detection at the ad impression level.  It’s the equivalent of using a laser to perform surgery rather than a butcher knife.   Here are a couple of things to look out for:  If more than 15 percent of your campaign impressions overall are identified as fraudulent and blocked, there is a good chance fraud detection is at the domain level.  This means you are using a butcher knife, and this will likely cause friction with partners and needlessly hurt your scale.

Additionally, if you ever hear that blocking is not possible or bad because it tips off the fraudsters, you should know that you have been given false information.  If done correctly, there is absolutely NO truth to this claim.  It’s an urban myth - similar to one that claims freezing water in plastic bottles release dangerous dioxins - so don’t fall for it!  Even if fraudsters were able to somehow detect that a specific bot did not receive the originally intended ad each time (not likely), there is no data that would give them the ability to reverse engineer the reasons why.  People claiming that blocking is bad because it helps the bad guys are either naïve, rely on only one method for detecting fraud (like side channel analysis) or are purposely deceitful.  In any case, it means that they’re suggesting a solution that does not have the technological sophistication to block at the impression level, and thus not as effective in preventing fraud and saving money for advertisers.

The second category of blame for exaggerating the fraud problem is related more to commercial reasons.  The fraud problem has created lots of opportunity and companies have popped up almost overnight to capitalize on it.  Many of the companies are made up of people who have never bought or sold an ad and have no appreciation for the media or the technology behind it.  They see dollar signs and exaggerate the problem to give their company attention and help them create more demand for their product and services.  Furthermore, most of these companies see only a small percentage of the online population - typically the worst stuff.  They make the assumption that their tiny sample of media is representative of the entire industry’s media and use these biased samples to wildly extrapolate.  Needless to say, the industry’s long-term health is not their top concern.  

So, where do we go from here?  Well, first it starts with a little perspective.  We have a fraud problem.  It has been exaggerated, however, and it’s not as big as many of the pundits say.  It definitely won’t ruin the industry - we won’t allow it to — and it’s not out of control.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is fraud is still a problem nonetheless.  It’s not only a sell side problem nor is it only a buy side problem.  It’s an industry problem.  And this problem will not go away anytime soon and may never completely vanish.  The bad guys are made up of amateurs and very sophisticated professionals.  We can eliminate the amateurs, but the pros are making a lot of money in fraud and they will continue to invest heavily in building better deceptions.  Our goal has to be to work together as an industry to shut down all amateur activity and get the professional levels to a very small, manageable amount.  The good news is that we are making progress.  Despite what you may hear, fraud levels have dropped over the past year.  We are at the beginning of the battle, but we’ve got the bad guys on the run. 


About the Author


Scott_headshot_hi-res.jpgScott Knoll

Scott Knoll is the CEO of Integral Ad Science