If we want to play like Wall Street, we must regulate like Wall Street

If we want to play like Wall Street, we must regulate like Wall Street

It’s time for ad tech to get its house in order before the Government is forced to intervene.


Achieving the same level of respect afforded to the financial industry is only possible if adtech collectively tackles and addresses its serious fraud issue.

Since the emergence of programmatic media trading, the industry has gone from ‘Mad Men’ to ‘Math Men’, as the Ivy League and Oxbridge mathletes and data scientists enabled billions of ads to be served to consumers globally in seconds. And with this high frequency/low latency ad trading, it began to look more Wall Street than Madison Avenue. 

But there’s a critical difference. Wall Street trading is highly regulated. Every trade is recorded and available for regulators, while large compliance teams oversee operations and apply these standards and practices.

Failure to do so, and companies and individuals face hefty fines and possibly court cases for breaching these standards. That’s why these financial organisations employ what, in essence, are ‘business prevention officers’ – and what they say must be adhered to.

However, the same can’t be said of adtech. Fraud runs rampant, but it’s difficult to find, making it difficult to reduce. 

Legislative interest from government

Today, Parliament and legislators are showing signs of wanting to regulate our space better. And it’s not just from the point of view of consumer privacy. There’s also a desire to reduce ad fraud, albeit driven by a need to tackle scam ads that prey on consumers.

But before they ramp up their legislative interest in the digital media supply chain, we as an industry must collectively act. 

Sitting on the UKSAFC, which is, for all intents and purposes, an anti-ad-fraud task force, we have a real opportunity to seize the initiative.

By coming together, we can create common standards and develop a simpler way to match the supply chain journey – upstream and downstream – for brands, advertisers, and publishers.

By garnering and activating critical business intelligence, we can allow industry participants to make better decisions for their companies and their paying customers.

Looking back to 2008, the financial crisis saw Wall Street get caught swimming with no trunks. But the Government bailed out swathes of these bad actors as policymakers deemed that the systemic risk to the financial system meant they were “too big to fail”. Adtech will not be afforded this same luxury.

Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) was born from the lack of regulation that allowed Enron and WorldCom to commit massive accounting frauds. And while I’m not suggesting that any adtech player is aping these fraudulent businesses, there is a general malaise towards creating and adhering to a SOX-style industry standard.

Perhaps a reason for this is that at the heart of it all is ethics, and these can interfere with driving revenue and profits.

It’s time to work together

Ultimately, we face two choices. We can work transparently and openly to solve the common industry woes impacting us all, or we wait for the Government, which lacks an understanding of our industry, to dictate how we operate. 

As individuals and collectively as an industry, now is the time to go beyond the empty lip service many people offer up around fraud and work together.

Only by reconfiguring and cleanly capturing critical data, then openly sharing it across this amazing industry, can we continue the growth trajectory we’ve enjoyed. In doing so, we can win back trust, ensure buyers have more faith in the open web and overcome the current situation that the duopoly (becoming a triopoly with Amazon) has been capitalising on.

Jon Walsh has worked in adtech for over 20 years, including 15 years as an entrepreneur and angel investor in the space. He now works as a strategic advisor to UKSAFC and adtech business EntityX.

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