BPA Worldwide is a not-for-profit organization that provides independent audits of audience claims for media publishers and media buyers.  Today, they’re taking on the programmatic ad tech establishment along with a number of partner companies.

The group is writing an open letter to the digital advertising agencies and asking for reform when it comes to how the digital ad pie is sliced by middlemen and data is being used without permission.  As MediaPost reported:

“Specifically, they are asking that when they make their audiences available for real-time bidding (RTB), the data is no longer accessible to ‘third parties’ who use it to create ancillary market opportunities based on the data.” – MediaPost

This data is used without permission, the group says.  By doing so, they can create additional selling markets.  As this inventory ripples through markets, everybody involved takes their piece and advertisers receive decreasing levels of value as overhead fees are tacked on.  If you’re not careful where you’re buying, the majority of ad spend can go to fees and processing rather than actual media placement.

Here’s the text of the letter:

An Open Letter to the Digital Advertising Industry:

We, the undersigned business publishers, collectively represent the foundation of the digital advertising industry. We put a significant level of energy and investment into creating compelling content that is the basis of our relationship with our audience. And our audience relationship is the key asset that creates value for our customers and for our businesses.

We want to raise awareness of an issue that is putting our key asset at risk. We believe the current system allows for a significant data breach by companies gaining access to the real-time bidding (RTB) infrastructure (i.e. the “bid stream”) for the sole purpose of harvesting both publisher-specific and audience-specific data. Further, we believe the bid stream is being used to obtain information about specific content pages viewed on publisher websites and the end-user companies that consumed the content to create offerings that compete against those same publishers whose data may be leveraged without their consent.

To be perfectly clear, without publisher permission, third parties have no contractual right to use this data to create derivative works from the very assets that publishers have spent decades and billions of dollars to create. They are being enabled by loose restrictions within some RTB platforms, which may ignore their responsibility and obligation to the media marketplace.

The publishing industry speaks with a unified voice in saying this practice must stop immediately.

We are asking our customers and the RTB eco-system to respect and protect our most valuable assets. BPA Worldwide, an assurance organization for advertisers, agencies and publishers, is working with us to bring your attention to what, we believe, is a significant breach. Our hope is that you share our position, and will join us in this most critical time for the business publishing industry.

To create a path forward, BPA said it will take a three-pronged approach.

  1. Education and awareness.
  2. Contractual clarity and follow through. BPA is collaborating with other industry organizations to create model contract language designed to protect publisher data across digital technology vendor agreements.
  3. BPA is developing industry bid stream data integrity standards and will launch a certification program for vendors that desire independent verification of compliance to these new standards.

The open letter went on to say:

We applaud the undersigned agencies and platforms that have joined us and immediately embraced this effort with an endorsement. We all have a vested interest, now more than ever, to build on the collective partnerships of trust and integrity. Credible media brands have played a vital role in the advancement of connecting marketers with their customers. Maintaining that integrity requires protection of the assets that drive the economic engine supporting a quality media environment.

We are asking our customers and advertising partners and technology vendors to join us in the effort by simply adhering to our mutual responsibility.

Here are the partner organizations involved in the open letter.