PR experts use a trick when they need to release news they really don’t want covered broadly, peer reviewed or scrutinized. The trick: drop the announcement when everyone is focused on other things. The Friday afternoon before a long weekend and the last business day before a major national holiday are prime dump days. The Bush White House used this tactic to announce Koran abuse at Gitmo and the indictment of Scooter Libby. Celebrities routinely use it to announce divorces or rehab stints.
And on December 23rd, just as the media world shut down for Christmas, Double Verify (DV) used it to announce its new “BrandShield” solution. Of particular note in DV’s release is that it seems to imply (the wording is quite cagey) that DV can perform page-level quality filtering on “nearly 100% of impressions”, even when ads are served within iframes, by effectively “seeing through” the iframes to determine “which…page the ad is actually delivered on”.
Taken at face value, this sounds like a huge advance in page-level quality filtering technology, which obviously requires page-level visibility to work. However, regular readers of this page will remember our recent post on the problems posed by iframes for 3rd party page-level filtering. Specifically, that “seeing through” iframes is impossible for an ad buy – like the vast majority of ad network buys – the composition of which is not known in advance.
So why would a (to date) publicity-hungry startup like DV announce seemingly ground-breaking technology in a way that recalls the indictment of a senior White House staffer? The only reason I can think of is that this announcement amounts to either a) an admission that DV is using the methods of hackers to exploit holes in browser security and enable collection of data that all commercial browsers prevent for important privacy reasons or b) a clumsy and misleading attempt to confuse the market about what is technically possible.
The former would raise extremely troubling privacy concerns, particularly against the backdrop of increased scrutiny on collection of user data for BT. The latter is obviously not particularly comforting either, but at least it doesn’t open unsuspecting agencies and brands up to PR backlash, consumer lawsuits and/or government sanctions. Either way, prospective DV clients considering this solution should ask tough, direct questions about how this apparent iframe miracle is performed before touching it with the proverbial ten foot pole. Specifically, buyers’ technical staffs should seek to understand clearly and precisely how each page in an ad buy would be conclusively identified and filtered, including each page where the ad is displayed within an iframe. As I mentioned above, be sure to consider the case where the composition of the buy is not known in advance, like most ad network buys.
Rest assured that we will be working with our agency partners to fully explore these claims and will share whatever facts we uncover on this page. Please feel free also to share with me anything you know or find out. As we set about that work (or at least until DV is good enough to clarify their release), I would renew my call for a New Year’s resolution: let’s elevate the dialog from misleading marketing claims to honest discussion and execution of the cutting edge solutions that sophisticated clients demand and deserve.