Facebook clears key hurdle in getting MRC accreditation

The social network takes first and possibly biggest step towards providing marketers third-party verification of audience numbers

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Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Facebook and Instagram have cleared a key hurdle toward accredited third-party measurement of ad viewability: The Media Rating Council today announced the social networks have passed an audit of its internal data collection process.

It's only the first step, but possibly the biggest hurdle given a series of embarrassing admissions in recent years about Facebook's internal audience measurement measures. The MRC audit committee concluded Facebook was "materially compliant" with its minimum standards and applicable industry measurement guidelines.

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It's a bit of good news for Facebook amid a series of negative publicity about how it has handled personal data and evidence of Russia's use of the platform to influence elections in the U.S., including a hearing in the U.K. earlier today.

The next step on the audience verification front for Facebook is for the MRC to audit and accredit the process of Facebook and Instagram passing their data to third-party measurement firms Moat, Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify. Only approval of those audits will fully deliver one of the key things marketers have demanded from Facebook and other digital players – MRC-accredited third-party validation of their audience measurements.

It's nearly a year since the original deadline set by Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard in early 2017 for digital players to get such validation. But he's given them a pass for effort, as P&G continues to advertise on Facebook and has resumed advertising on YouTube, saying the industry is "90 percent of the way there."

Facebook is the first of the so-called "walled gardens" to get approval of their internal data collection and processing systems as they seek MRC accreditation.

"We do think this is a significant milestone Facebook has achieved, completing essentially the front-end part of the pipeline process that's been created," says MRC Senior Vice President David Gunzerath. "We're looking forward to auditing the third-party vendors, who we do have experience with and are accredited for certain other aspects of their products."

While the three measurement firms have won numerous other MRC accreditations, those mainly involve use of their own proprietary tagging systems for digital ads rather than working with a data feed from a media platform like what Facebook and Instagram are providing.

Today's approval is a significant step toward the viewability measurement demands that "have been the focus of a lot of attention and concern by marketers," Gunzerath says.

Today's approval doesn't cover fraudulent traffic detection – so-called "sophisticated invalid traffic" detection. But he says, "The third-party vendors do have SIVT processes and we will be looking at those when we do those audits."

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