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Ken Brook is CEO of MetaX, an ad tech firm that recently launched “adchain,” a form of blockchain designed specifically for the digital advertising industry. In addition to providing a more thorough, encrypted record of digital advertising transactions, an added benefit of blockchain is the ability to clearly expose parties engaging in fraudulent practices. Brook spoke with eMarketer’s Lauren Fisher about what blockchain is, and what potential it holds for fighting digital ad fraud.
eMarketer: What is blockchain, and what potential value can it bring to the digital advertising ecosystem?
Ken Brook: A good way to look at blockchain is as a database. It’s almost like a ledger of events that is secured in what’s called a block. And the chain is just a series of blocks that have been appended to this ledger.
And at any time, someone can query the ledger to make sure that events happened or that things exist. It can’t be tampered with or doctored because of how the algorithm of the blockchain is securing the data. So you can trust what you are seeing is true, because it hasn’t been altered by third parties.
In the context of digital advertising, the ledger is a database of information that relates to an online advertising campaign. If an advertiser purchases or bids using [real-time bidding] RTB on an impression event and they win the bid, the event is encrypted.
We encrypt the data around the impression event, starting with the browser and the publisher’s page. As it goes up the supply chain to the [demand-side platform] DSP or whichever systems are bidding on the impression event, we continue to encrypt it.
Part of that cryptography is verification and signatures, where a known and universal identity would represent the actual entity in the supply chain. They sign the event in real time to verify that it occurred. So as this impression event, and all the metadata behind the impression, is passed system-to-system in the supply chain as it currently is today, each hop or each server in the supply chain cryptographically signs to verify this event has happened. All of these events are, again, forwarded as a block and then appended to the ad chain.
eMarketer: What are the benefits of employing this type of technology and protocol, from an ad verification perspective?
Brook: Every event is saved, regardless of if it’s a botnet or fraud or legitimate. If there is a safety vendor like Moat or White Ops that needs to verify that impressions are legitimate and clear the impressions for a settlement, they can do it in this ledger.
And everyone will know the source of the fraud. We can solve a lot of fraud issues just with identity. Fraud can’t hide in the opaqueness of the supply chain anymore, because everyone is known.
eMarketer: So if someone is URL spoofing—for example, posing as CNN when they aren’t—it’s going to become very obvious when the impression isn’t cleared by CNN, right?
Brook: Exactly. You can clearly see that the impression did not come from CNN, and you’ll also be able to see the actual information of the domain, like the originating impression event and the referring URL.
The first phase of this is exposing that activity, and the second phase will be to prevent these types of things from occurring in real time. Because if it’s not CNN and that’s not what the advertiser is bidding on, it won’t happen. It won’t be compliant with the protocol.
So through the protocol we can prevent not just spoofing URLs, but also duplicate impression spend or any type of mispresentation of the advertising opportunity. The advertiser can confidently purchase the actual impression they wanted and not something else. Not data center traffic, or some less valuable website with questionable content that they don’t want to be associated with.
eMarketer: What type of encrypted information is passed along and appended to these transactions?
Brook: Everything that’s currently being tracked. We can encrypt and store all of the first-party audience data. We can point to a data management platform [DMP] and pull in that data. The protocol is permissionable. So we can make data private, or we can make it public. It depends on the choice of the rightful owner of that data—the first party.
If a publisher wants to sell their premium audience data or provide some audience segment to the advertiser, they can. This protocol is designed to abide by all the data privacy laws.
As programmatic advertising matures, buyers and sellers no longer see it merely as a means of automating processes, but rather as an advanced method of controlling ad campaigns—and better targeting the audiences that come with them.
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