The Ethical A(d)genda: August

August brought some big developments when it comes to ethics in digital media — from bid caching to more misuse of consumer data. And so, in our first monthly round-up, here are the ethical adtech stories from the past month that you need to know about.

Stat of the month
According to the 2018 Location-Based Marketing Report, published by location-based firm Factual, some 71% of marketers are seeking alternatives to advertising online with Facebook and Google, citing access to data as a major concern alongside becoming more concerned with how the two control trends and business models. Reports suggest that marketers are looking at Amazon as an alternative. Read more.

#1 Facebook denies play for customers’ financial data

Facebook landed itself in hot water again this month when reports circulated that the tech giant had asked a number of large US banks to share detailed financial information about customers in a bid to boost user engagement.

According to the report by Wall Street Journal, Facebook asked firms such as JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup to discuss potential offerings it could provide for users on Facebook’s Messenger platform. The report comes as Facebook has drawn increasing criticism over its privacy practices following revelations that political data firm Cambridge Analytica obtained the personal data of as many as 87 million Facebook users worldwide.

While most of the headlines focused on further troubles for Facebook and the depth of data broker problems in adtech, iotec CEO Paul Wright believes that the news could help to drive change in the digital media industry: “Ultimately success here comes down to two key things — a drive to be transparent in data usage and for brands to stand up and action best practice. Those who respect data, its value, and its ownership, rather than those who seek to commoditise it, will ultimately triumph with all of us.

#2 Index Exchange called out for tweaking its auction

Index Exchange has been doing bid caching, where if its buyer loses a programmatic auction, it holds onto the bid to see if it can serve an ad on the next piece of content the consumer views.

Bid caching has enabled Index Exchange to gain market share against rival exchanges and deliver higher CPMs to publishers.

Index Exchange claims the practice is above board, and so has never felt the need to tell buyers about the practice.

“We didn’t think it was an issue with buyers. We were so surprised. We thought this was an industry practice,” said Drew Bradstock, SVP of product at Index Exchange.

The ad exchange has since halted its use of bid caching after an industry-wide debate was sparked, calling into question the transparency of the tactic.

#3 Firefox will soon block ad-tracking software by default

Mozilla is taking a bold stance against more insidious web advertising practices with an announcement that its Firefox browser will soon block web trackers by default.

The move is one of the most proactive approaches to protect consumer privacy that it’s ever employed.

The move follows a study by Ghostery that found that more than 50 percent of time spent loading webpages was due to third-party trackers loading in the background.

Over the next few months, Mozilla will roll out a series of features via three key initiatives designed to block fingerprinting, improve page load times and improve page performance.

“Long page load times are detrimental to every user’s experience on the web,” the company’s blog explains. “For that reason, we’ve added a new feature in Firefox Nightly that blocks trackers that slow down page loads. We will be testing this feature using a shield study in September. If we find that our approach performs well, we will start blocking slow-loading trackers by default in Firefox 63.”