Back in 2006, as the FTC was assembling the criteria that went into what became the “OBA Principles”—the foundation for our industry’s self-regulatory program—the watchdog chose its words very carefully. One word that appeared far less in the criteria than one would have guessed is “privacy.” Another word that appeared all over the documents—and has remained top of mind since—is “transparency.”
Six years later, the AdChoices Program run by the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) has retained that focus on transparency, bringing to light data practices online and helping consumers separate the benign data transactions that go into behavioral targeting from other, more invasive data practices, such as malware and identity theft.
Publicly, legislators and regulators have kept the pressure on our industry as the program continues to build momentum. Privately, individuals from both groups appear more bullish on self-regulation, especially as pertains to how technology can enable transparency.
So, which industry segment can expect to see this kind of transparency enabling measure enacted?
The obvious choice is lead-generation, which is a subset of what performance marketers call CPA—cost per action campaigns. We’ve all heard the rumors of click fraud that have pervaded our industry for years, with allegations that bots, and not actual consumers, keep the price of keywords—and Google stock—high. There have been enough lawsuits on and around this topic to keep this on the radar of FTC attorneys, and with billions of dollars being spent by marketers to buy the fruits of these clicks, the traffic and personally identifiable information (PII) that consumers provide after visiting sites and either making a purchase or requesting more information, there is plenty at stake.
One segment of our industry can’t wait for any program, and it convened in November to create a standard for transparency in the lead gen space. We all know how much online universities have depended on CPA campaigns to fill their classes. After all, it’s only been a few years since Apollo Online—the University of Phoenix—was the largest single online advertiser. On November 12 and 13, senior executives from most of the major online colleges and universities gathered at the Comcast Center in Philadelphia to finish what they’d begun.
Their corollary to the AdChoices program is called LeadiD, which they’re expected to adopt as a standard within the educational sector’s lead gen space. They’ve made lots of progress together to drive this standard of transparency, and I expect them to adopt it and move it through the entire CPA segment, much like an ongoing verification program that works within campaigns, not forensically.
Imagine being able to know that any click or data that had been derived from a click was accurate before making a decision about it. The kind of certification that people expect when they buy a car has to become the standard for lead generation. And like car certification, systems like the one utilized by LeadiD use a kind of VIN code taxonomy. The same one-way hashing that creates an abstraction layer between users’ PII and their browser information for targeting purposes can be utilized in lead generation too. Done properly, one-way hashing is more secure than most encryption and can provide security and confidence. Here, however, it also can provide certification that a lead or other action is precisely what its sellers claim it to be.
If you’re a lead buyer for an online university—or an insurance company or financial institution for that matter—the ability to know in advance that what you’re buying is what it claims to be is paramount. Forensic verification solutions won’t cut it. Imagine knowing before you spend your thousands—or millions of dollars—that you’re getting precisely what you’re paying for. That’s where this industry has to go—and thanks to technologies like that provided by LeadiD, it’s where it is heading.
David Herscott is managing partner at NetX.