Why the future of programmatic advertising has decentralisation at its core

Simon Critchley
(almost 3 years ago)
Chief Executive Officer

The transition to OpenRTB changed the face of digital advertising. It provided buyers with the ability to buy against data at scale by placing their trust in third-party technology platforms.

Unfortunately as a direct result of this architecture we now face a crisis in digital advertising in Europe due to GDPR and California due to the CCPA. The existing system favours opaqueness, undeclared relationships and encourages the leakage of personal data. As new regulations have emerged, the industry has largely ignored them, often relying on obfuscation of their behaviour to avoid scrutiny.

It is our belief that we need to rearchitect the system in order to solve its current flaws. This re-imagining of programmatic trading must be centered around one concept, decentralisation. By moving to a decentralised architecture we can address some of the fundamental issues that exist today.

Centralised authorities are bad

Access to supply is often mediated by a broker such as an exchange or ssp. The automated decision making that occurs within the boundaries of these mediators is typically a black box. As a buyer or seller there is no easy way to introspect the process and determine whether the correct decisions are being made and, furthermore, whether the usage of personal data is compliant with regulations.

AS it stands, the existing architecture encourages abuse of trust. As an industry, we need to shed light on how decisions are being made so that we can win back the trust of publishers and more importantly the end consumer.

If we decentralise the decision making we can empower publishers to own the relationship with the end user and, in turn, provide the user with real control over how their personal data is leveraged to help fund and support the content they love. By adopting an open source technology we can provide a publicly auditable solution that can be evolved and adapted as regulatory requirements change.

Implicit trust is naive

If you are operating an OpenRTB integration then you implicitly trust every connection, even those of which you are unaware.

Let's walk through some examples.

  1. A premium publisher selling via OpenRTB exposes every page load, every user, every URL. Buyers need not pay that publisher to monetise their audience, they can target them elsewhere on long tail inventory at a fraction of the cost. Not only this, the user may be involved in automated profiling by platforms they've never interacted with directly. The existing consent management solutions define a framework but cannot do anything to enforce compliance.
  2. A demand-side platform buying inventory from an SSP through OpenRTB assumes each bid request is correctly represented and that all data included has been gathered by controllers and processors on a lawful basis. There is no way to validate this and the existing system has too many undeclared connections to guarantee that this is the case.

How does decentralisation solve these issues?

Firstly, what do mean by "decentralised"?

A decentralised system in systems theory is a system in which lower level components operate on local information to accomplish global goals.


The key part of this is "local information". Where in the current architecture all data is treated as global and is shared as such via the OpenRTB protocol we need to reorganise around a new network of components where evaluation of targeting, pricing and data is localised to the owners of the data. Publishers should evaluate targeting, data integrations should be direct between the publisher and data platform and buyers should only be sent requests when their targeting criteria have been fulfilled.

By taking this approach we can achieve the following:

  1. We empower publishers to manage the relationship and consent for processing of personal data with the end user directly.
  2. We can provide a technology stack that enforces a set of policies defined using a combination of the publishers preferences and the user consent signal.
  3. We can prevent the leakage of personal data beyond the publisher stack and have complete transparency in the advertising supply chain.

Our system can achieve this by utilising a new protocol that standardises the APIs for the targeting and evaluation of bid requests and moves this decisioning away from a large number of unmonitored systems (DSPs and ad exchanges) directly into the publisher stack.

We're confident that this will create a safer, more secure and more sustainable advertising ecosystem that can work towards restoring some trust in digital advertising amongst consumers as well as providing a solid commercial opportunity for publishers to regain some of the margins that have been squeezed over the past decade.

We will be providing selected partners with early access to our platform in Q4 2020.

If you're interested in finding out more, get in contact with us today.