Transparency issues haunt digital ads ahead of mid-terms

After Big Tech platforms cracked down on political ads in the wake of the 2020 election, political advertisers have increasingly flocked to the new Wild West of programmatic ad companies, compared exclusively shared with Axios.

Why is this important: Programmatic advertising companies, which automate the buying and selling of ads across various platforms, have minimal transparency tools and a few specific content restrictions.

  • The report finds that “programmatic advertising through other platforms represents a substantial and growing share of political advertising.”

What is happening: Published by the Center on Technology Policy at the University of North Carolina, the report, supported in part by the Knight Foundation, examines the growing impact of programmatic advertising companies to understand how they shape political discourse ahead of midterms of 2022.

  • The report looks at ad exchanges, supply-side platforms and demand-side platforms, rather than large ad networks like Taboola or publishers like Hulu. Technology for campaigns estimates that advertisers spent $2.3 billion on Facebook and Google ads and $1.5 billion on other digital ads in 2019-20.
  • Consultants cited in the report say ad money is moving away from tech platforms as targeting rules become stricter.

Between the lines: Social media platforms’ rules regarding political ads are closely monitored, as they serve the majority of digital political ads in the United States. Yet programmatic political advertising is in dire need of clearer policies around content, disclaimers, targeting, transparency and accountability, according to the report.

  • The Federal Election Commission is very limited in how it can regulate online political ads, and legislative efforts to regulate them have failed.
  • The report offers 12 recommendations to improve the regulation and transparency of programmatic political advertising.

What they say : “Most of these [programmatic] platforms, their political speech policies for paid speech look a bit like what ad platforms looked like in 2012,” report co-author Matt Perault, former head of global policy development, told Axios. at Meta who now runs the North Carolina center.

  • “We’re only two months into another election cycle, and there’s still so much we don’t know about the online political ad ecosystem,” said report co-author J. Scott. Babwah Brennen, head of online expression policy at the same center. . “We found an ad-tech ecosystem that seems to be designed to be opaque and byzantine.”

The plot: No programmatic advertising company reviewed by Perault and Babwah Brennen explicitly prohibits lying about election processes or results, and few clarify their policies regarding misinformation in the context of political ads.

  • Only one programmatic advertising company, Xandr, maintains an archive of advertisements, according to the authors’ review.