Publishers have long been on guard against ad-tech companies undermining their earnings with arbitrary charges and misclassification.

A different ad-tech business strategy that has recently irritated publishers is the scraping of data from their websites, which ad-tech firms then package into contextual segments that marketers can use to target.

Although the practice is not new, publishers who are eagerly awaiting the deprecation of third-party cookies, which is scheduled for next year, are becoming increasingly concerned about it, four publishing industry sources told Adweek. Additionally, publishers are more vigilant than ever about outside parties scraping their material given the explosive growth of generative AI.

To monetize their readers, publishers are investing in substitute signals such as contextual data in place of cookies. Publishers contend that the bundling and sale of this data by third-party ad-tech companies violates their intellectual property rights. Publishing sources expressed concerns about buyers choosing contextual segments from ad-tech firms, which typically cover more of the open web than publishers’ bespoke offerings, at a time when publishers’ revenue is already threatened by economic headwinds, even though it is difficult to quantify the exact impact on revenue.

According to Danny Spears, chief operating officer of Ozone, a publisher advertising platform for brands like The Guardian, Reach Plc., and The Telegraph, “there are hundreds of intermediaries who are classifying publisher intellectual property and then are taking it back to market as their own data and using it to compete for ad dollars against the publisher.”

The Association of Online Publishers, a trade organization in the United Kingdom, published an open statement last week outlining the problem and “calling time on publisher IP theft” by content-verification companies for the sale of contextual audience segments created using publisher data. The group urged ad buyers to hold ad-tech companies accountable. Members include the BBC, Condé Nast Digital, and The Guardian.

The conflict between publishers and content-verification companies has so far largely consisted of a verbal battle, despite the strongly worded charges and emotive language. Publishers are overworked and facing declining ad income, making it difficult for them to meet this specific challenge. Additionally, they have little influence over ad-tech companies to stop a long-standing practice.

Jana Meron, founder of ad-tech consultancy Lioness Strategies and former svp of programmatic and data strategy at Insider, stated that the problem is still important but added that “they have bigger fish to fry.” “The cookie is dying and ad-verification companies are stealing the publishers’ most valuable asset,”

Old practice, new practitioners

Publishers are upset about contextual scraping in part because content-verification companies have only lately started using it. These businesses were founded to help prevent unwanted traffic and safeguard the safety of brands, and some publishers saw them as allies rather than competitors.

According to Scott Messer, a media consultant and former executive at The Leaf Group, “[Content-verification firms] bring you business, and then you find out [they’ve] scraped your pages and are setting up a competitive angle into your business and undermining your efforts to stand up your own data.”

Context Control and Custom Contextual Solution, two of the biggest content-verification companies, were launched in 2020 by Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify, respectively. In its earnings call last month, IAS disclosed that, up from 38% in 2021, the tool would account for 47% of its programmatic income in 2022.

Utilizing the same technology that crawls websites to assess whether they pose brand safety risks, content-verification companies’ tools assist brands in finding the best contextual niches, such as auto enthusiasts, to place their advertisements. However, according to the AOP in its letter, such technologies may incorrectly categorize publishers’ material because they do not seek their consent.

Web spiders from content-verification companies are difficult for publishers to remove from their websites because programmatic advertising relies on the brand safety checks they offer.

According to information provided to Adweek, the AOP has scheduled talks with IAS on behalf of its members to inquire about the viability of decoupling the contextual targeting feature from its web crawler. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, publishers were alarmed when IAS claimed that the product was designed in such a way that it couldn’t be unbundled. More recently, IAS stated that while it was doubtful that it could re-engineer the product to support unbundling, it would look into the possibility.


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