By Bill Densmore
ITE Project Director
Almost two years in the making, a new initiative backed by many major U.S. publishers might have the potential to cut down on problems with fraud and privacy abuses in the digital advertising industry.
“TrustX,” unveiled on Monday by Digital Content Next, a trade association of online publishers, (and already reported by the Wall Street Journal), might fit into the broader Information Trust Exchange ecosystem dealing with identity, privacy and payments, depending how it handles the desire of users to not be “tracked.” Key TrustX features include:
- A unique ownership structure. TrustX is a wholly owned subsidiary of Digital Content Next, which is itself a nonprofit association. So the advertising network will have no stockholders and little incentive to make more revenue than it needs to run the system — in contrast to private for-profit digital ad exchanges.
- An expressed commitment to user privacy and system transparency. “Security, privacy and trust in advertising is absolutely critical to us and we would love to find a way to enable ads to not be blocked because of pro-user policies,” says Jason Kint, the CEO of DCN.
- The participation of 27 name-brand publishers who are funding development of TrustX by prepaying for services — rather than being offered equity investments. This appears to guarantee committed “traffic” on the network from the outset.
Old vs. new ad “ecosystem”
Separately from DCN’s “TrustX” initiative, the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri has been studying for several years the challenge of how to manage the sharing of user identities across the web in ways that will permit “personalized” advertising and news without infringing privacy. Among collaborators in four meetings and dozens of discussions over the last year, a core idea has emerged. That is the need to wall-off information that uniquely identifies an individual from “leaking” out into the unsupervised realm of the opaque advertising technology world.
One participant in RJI’s Information Trust Exchange (ITE) project discussions has been John Taysom, a British investor, entrepreneur and former Reuters PLC point-person in Silicon Valley. Taysom wrote a paper while on a sabbatical at Harvard University and was granted a U.S. patent on a technology he called “Three’s a Crowd.” The idea is to process profiles to “anonymize” attributes like age or address or income or family size into ranges rather than specific values before release of profiles for advertising targeting. And ITE task-group members have also considered establishing rules for participation in the network that forbid targeting of individuals with unique ad messages without their explicit permission to do so.
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