IAB Aims to Help Site Publishers Plug Data Leaks

Publishers Have Trouble Keeping Up With Technology, Risking Their Data

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Consumer web data is becoming increasingly valuable, and website publishers want to milk it for all it's worth. The problem is some aren't even aware of all the ways their site data are shared or sold, which can actually cannibalize their own businesses. Enter the latest industry-driven effort to help publishers get a handle on their data.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau's Data Council has released a draft of its Site Tagging Best Practices, a guide for publishers in need of better control and protection of their site data. At issue are not only data control and privacy but also site loading time, which a large number of tags can weigh down.

The draft guide suggests that site owners ask the ad and analytics firms they partner with what data they collect and if the data will be transferred to other companies. The number of third-parties that media firms, e-commerce sites and brand sites partner with for audience tracking, site optimization and social sharing has exploded in recent years. And as the digital-data market grows, those third-parties have tacked on additional partners that aggregate, buy and sell the data, creating a virtual bazaar of data goods that are swapped in milliseconds.

Some publishers simply have not kept up the due diligence necessary to be aware of or to manage every recipient or use of the data gleaned on their sites. "Site owners should put in place a system to continually monitor the number of third-party requests on your pages and make these metrics available for all stakeholders," the draft guide stated. "If a large number of unexpected requests are occurring, the site owner should speak to the vendors to understand where they are coming from and why."

It may seem like such monitoring would be standard practice, but that isn't always the case. "It's not so much folks acting irresponsibly, it's more the state-of -the-art of ad serving has exceeded basic web property-management capabilities," said Ben Crain, who heads marketing and corporate development for data-management firm Krux Digital, which offers a tag-management service to its publisher clients. "It's not through any kind of recklessness," he continued.

The portion of data-collection events that are enabled through third parties has increased rapidly from 31% last year to 54% in 2012, according to a Krux report measuring data-collection activity across more than 50 top ad-supported websites.

Credit: Krux Digital

The IAB guide suggests a variety of options for agreements between site publishers and data-collection partners; however, signed contracts detailing terms and conditions for data collection and use have not always been standard.

"I would say two or three years ago, that kind of conversation was nonexistent," said Mr. Crain, noting that contractual agreements "are now standard practice for most of the ad-ops pros we're working with day-to-day."

Still, some sites are cluttered with long-forgotten tags that may have been added years ago with little or no attention paid to data-collection practices or requirements.

While privacy is a concern for companies, the negative financial implications of lax data control are prompting increased investment in tag management. The near-ubiquitous social widgets that let publishers easily include buttons for sharing articles and links on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social sites also play a role.

For instance, a large auto site could be unwittingly allowing data on audience interactions to be matched with other user information and sent through a string of partners, eventually helping other competitors reach those same users, suggested Mike Chang, director of solutions for Krux. "It's a grave concern for that website and their sales team and marketing team," said Mr. Chang.

Krux had representatives on the IAB task force that developed the best practices document. Other participants included AMC Networks, Google, YouTube, Yahoo, Microsoft-Atlas Advertiser, data provider and management firm BlueKai, and other firms offering tag-management services such as BrightTag and TagMan. It doesn't hurt that the report serves as a promotion for the nascent tag-management sector, which has sprouted because web publishers have become overwhelmed with the amount of tags associated with their web pages.

The IAB has opened the draft for public comments through Jan. 4.

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