IAB UK Digital Trust Forum: 4 key takeaways

Hot on the heels of the IAB’s inaugural Digital Trust Forum on Wednesday 22nd January, here is a round up of our key takeaways:

The ICO Present at The IAB UK Digital Trust Forum 2020

Collaboration was a key theme – and critical enabler – for all speakers

Almost every talk encouraged the industry to come together to deliver better advertising and rebuild trust in digital. And there are a huge number of standards, certifications and best practice guides to support. In one day more than a dozen standards were referred to. This plethora of standards reflects the complexity of the digital world. And what is heartening is that all of these organisations (including IAB, ISBA, JICWEBS, TAG, CBA, AA, and AOP) are striving towards the same outcome – better advertising. But this cannot be achieved in isolation. Every part of the digital industry must come together to ensure that everyone is upholding these standards; whether buying, selling or instructing advertising output. And as a positive example of a move to greater collaboration and consistency, JICWEBS and TAG announced they are merging, aiming for the end of Q1.

A knee jerk reaction to difficult topics will have negative implications for brands, not just their vendor set.

The law of unintended consequences was raised a number of times. Independent research estimates that overzealous block lists are costing UK publishers £170m per year – or 1 in every 5 advertising dollars. Words that have been excluded due to genuine brand safety concerns can be left to linger on these lists when they no longer pose a threat. And overly simplistic filtering can exclude “safe” phrases (Sperm Whale, Star Wars) for “unsafe” words. Whilst this clearly has a revenue impact on publishers, brands are losing out on potential growth opportunities. More significantly, recent changes to restrict (cookie based) tracking has prompted some bad actors to use even more privacy-invading techniques – like fingerprinting – to get around the restrictions. As the recent spat between Chrome and Safari engineers demonstrates, the technology that underpins our industry is complex – making changes will take time

It wouldn’t be a conference on trust if we didn’t talk about data collection & privacy

The good news is that we’re not the only market struggling with detailed data and privacy regulations. The bad news is we’re still struggling with detailed data and privacy regulations. As one speaker put it “the reality is  GDPR is vague on key points”. In this context Google is asking their engineers to “do more with less data”, Facebook is putting more control into the hands of users, and industry bodies – like the IAB – are working with data authorities – like the ICO – to provide practical guidance to their members on what good compliance looks like. And the ICO is definitely on the war path, just very politely.

A number of articles have covered the ICO session in depth; we picked up two key messages:

  • Engaging with the industry, rather than piling in with a fine, doesn’t mean the regulator has gone soft. Specifically, “If anyone feels we’re stepping away from this issue, they’re wrong… we will help you change, but that doesn’t mean we will forget our regulatory responsibilities”
  • Action is coming, reiterating that “Those who have ignored the window of opportunity to engage and transform must now prepare for the ICO to utilise its wider powers”

New technology is still a key feature of – and challenge for – the digital ecosystem

The entire digital industry was born out of technical innovation, and the rate of change over the past decades has sometimes been bewildering. As new technologies are introduced they have the potential to both help and hinder efforts to increase trust. Blockchain, often touted as a way to increase transparency – and therefore trust – is not there yet, but tests are encouraging. However, Deepfake content and fake news websites are growing in sophistication and making it more difficult for consumers to trust the content they view. As an industry, we will need to work together to harness the good, and combat the bad, of the technologies we deploy.

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