Member Q&A Series : Buy-Side Transparency Standards

On April 08, 2021 Research & Resources

Buy-Side Programmatic Transparency standards – and why they are so important to both buyers and sellers

The recently released buy-side standards from IAB Tech Lab include buyers.json and the DemandChain object – which will provide significant improvements in transparency that can be used to combat malware and other problematic demand. We asked our members a few questions on the topic.

For an explainer article on these buy side transparency standards please click here

Eric Bozinny, Senior Director, Marketplace Quality – PubMatic

What issues are these standards designed to try and solve for?

The move towards optimal programmatic marketplace transparency continues to be a work-in-progress for our industry. These new standards, and buyers.json in particular, present another opportunity to bring further inventory clarity, transparency and control for buyers – the drivers of the programmatic ecosystem.

When ad fraud became a clear danger to digital advertising, the supply side was the first focus of industry-driven transparency efforts. Exposing the dark corners of the supply chain became a priority, bringing clarity to buyers whose marketing dollars fund the entire system. This resulted in a series of specs that benefited a goal of transparency, including ads.txt, app-ads.txt, sellers.json and supply chain object.

Pursuing a similar approach illuminating buyers will not only help sellers, but also help legitimate buyers by reducing behaviors that negatively impact their campaigns and the consumers they are trying to engage online.

The buyers.json initiative is designed to bring transparency about many buyers that are currently hidden from view and identification upstream from a DSP. Buyers.json is a publicly viewable file that a DSP and other buy-side intermediaries can post to their root domain (such as “”). Exchanges and publishers in the supply chain can reference this buyers.json file and find the buyer entry corresponding to the buyer identifier captured from the response stream. This will ultimately allow publishers to determine which buyer is responsible for an ad (which is especially useful when a malicious ad is identified).

This can help decrease the amount of malvertising that works its way through the supply chain to publishers and their audiences. While the benefits to the supply side of the ledger are self-evident, advertisers can also benefit from buy-side transparency. One of the most widely abused functions of malicious advertising is to redirect the user away from the publisher page they are viewing, to a page where the bad actor will try to capture the user’s interest.

Above all, consumers are the obvious beneficiaries of buy-side transparency as they can be most harmed by the actions of malicious ads. These can include the injection of computer viruses, phishing attempts, and other behaviors that greatly exceed a simple marketing message.

How will PubMatic be supporting these buyer transparency efforts with your clients and partners?

Currently, whenever PubMatic identifies a malicious ad, we block the ad from serving on our publishers’ inventory. With buyers.json, we’ll be able to take blocking a step further by identifying the discrete buyer sending the ads to our publishers and blocking the malicious buyer completely.

Our experience with sellers.json has shown us that this isn’t a pipe dream. The sellers.json spec has paid dividends and we can now provide better quality supply and supply paths to buyers. Buyers.json is set up the same way, and if adopted, we can help publishers serve better quality ads on their pages.

The birds’ eye view is evident – buyers.json is a win for greater transparency in the programmatic ecosystem. We’re committed to supporting this initiative and publicising the benefits to buyers, sellers and consumers.

Janette Higginson, Head of Demand, APAC – Index Exchange

What issues are these standards designed to try and solve for?

Bad ads and bad actors continue to plague the internet, with auto-directing creative and malware harming our users’ experiences, as malicious advertisers steal their information to fuel fake traffic on the sell-side.

The recently introduced standards, Buyers.json and DemandChain, allow for advertising systems to efficiently and elegantly disclose information about buyers such as name and seat ID through the hosted buyer.json declaration file.

Ultimately, it helps to solve questions like: how can we make sure this bid belongs to a real advertiser? How can we verify that the advertiser actually uses the DSP that placed the bid? Which advertisers is this DSP actually working with? How can exchanges and DSPs make the distinction between what’s legitimate and what’s not?

Publishers aren’t the only ones who benefit: everyone in the supply chain wins when there is traceable information about buyers. It can be used by partners to enhance reporting data, analyse demand trends, and aid demand path optimisation to make sure that more of every working media dollar makes it to the publisher.

How are you as an Exchange educating the market on the importance of adopting these standards?

Index Exchange have been passionate about transparency and accountability in the supply chain for years. We believe transparency & accountability at large is essential to both the growth and sustainability of our industry.

We have been vocal about our position on providing equal transparency standards, for both the sell and the buy-side. Our efforts are centred around accountability and advocating this approach in our consultative discussions with publishers, buyers, and the industry at large.

Index Exchange supports both Buyers.json and DemandChain alongside a small group of publishers and SSPs willing to move this issue forward by designing technical specifications. In addition, we will be implementing both designs and remain committed to bringing down malware and supporting publishers.

Amit Shetty, VP Programmatic Standards & Partnerships – IAB Tech Lab

What issues are these standards designed to try and solve for?

The primary focus of these buy side transparency standards is to address malware and problematic ads. Malware includes viruses disguised as ads, or ads that intrude on the consumers’ privacy or leak data from the publishers’ apps/websites. Other types of problematic ads are those that are heavy weight or having bad code that slows down the app or website, resulting in a bad user experience. These of course are critical for publishers, but also are important to advertisers from a brand safety perspective. A second benefit of these standards is ‘Demand Path Optimization’. This is similar to Supply Path Optimization and provides the ability for publishers and advertisers to look at the bid response chain and look for places that can be optimized.

These remain optional standards and not mandatory, so how can we ensure full adoption of both the sell-side and buy-side transparency standards?

That is a tough question. All our standards are optional and there is no mechanism to mandate the support of standards. It requires industry / peer pressure to do that. With sell-side transparency standards (ads.txt, sellers.json, SupplyChain Object) the buy side was able to apply pressure on the sell side and push for adoption. A number of buyers now insist on ‘safe channels’ which provide the transparency via those standards. With these buy side transparency efforts, we will need the supply side (publishers, SSPs, etc) to apply similar pressure in pushing for adoption, but the more important path will be to provide a lot more education across the board about the benefits, to both buyers and sellers.

What future mechanisms are IAB Tech Lab looking to develop and release to provide further protection once these initial standards have been widely adopted?

In the working group we looked at a few other options around a buy side transparency standards, and decided that buyers.json and DChain might be the most important ones for now. For the future, we will revisit a proposal for updating the Ad Management API with seat management features (to automate the process of turning off problematic seat ids). We are also looking at the possibility of a cross platform campaign id, and a few other options. I should point out that we already have release the Ad Product Taxonomy (which helps provide more information about the type of ad being delivered so that publishers can take decisions around brand safety and competitive separation based on that information).

Juliette Stead, SVP, Head of JAPAC – Magnite

What issues are these standards designed to try and solve for?

These new standards will help the industry achieve closer parity in transparency between the buy and sell sides. The standards will play a role in helping to defend against malvertising and other severe ad-quality violations. The goal of these initiatives is to protect sellers and their site visitors and app users and to encourage the continued growth of safe programmatic advertising.

How will Magnite be supporting these buyer transparency efforts with our clients and partners?

The IAB Tech Lab has now published a draft implementation guide for public comment. The guide provides insight into what specific steps different types of companies in the industry can do to support buyers.json and dchain. Specs are only useful to the extent they’re adopted. We encourage DSPs, brands, and agencies to recognise that participating in the effort will help reduce abusive behaviour that hurts content producers and end-users, and that some studies show even contributes to the installation of ad blockers.

How is Magnite educating the market on the importance of adopting these standards?

Magnite is one of several companies that are collaborating with the IAB Tech Lab to develop these standards and educate the market. In a recent blog post, Magnite’s VP Engineering, Marketplace Quality, John Clyman, spoke about the importance of widespread adoption of transparency initiatives to give buyers far greater clarity into the inventory they’re purchasing programmatically.

This is a community effort, and we’re also excited to see resources such as that provide information and endorsements. We encourage everyone to raise their voices in support of this and other transparency efforts that can enhance safety and confidence in the programmatic ecosystem.

David Benjafield, Country Manager ANZ – MediaMath

What issues are these standards designed to try and solve for?

In the past few years, Sell-Side Transparency has been an important step forward in providing the industry with more visibility into the path that a bid opportunity takes to get to the buyer. Just as similar developments for the supply side like sellers.json, SupplyChain Object, and ads.txt provide a bulwark of protection against ad fraud, the Buy-Side Transparency initiatives buyers.json and DemandChain Object protect against malware and malvertising from the demand side.

The two buy-side transparency specs empower the sell-side with the tools to recognize the buyer of the inventory. In fact, malware infections are one of the primary ways ad fraud is perpetrated, so there is a direct relationship. This new transparency spec will help close the loop on a clean and transparent ecosystem that protects both buyers of inventory as well as suppliers and ultimately individual users from the impact of bad actor behavior.

Ad fraud is a problem that specifically affects the buyers of inventory, and while closing the loop on malware will in the end help protect against ad fraud, it also fulfills the role the ad industry can play in helping to protect users from the negative effects of having their devices compromised by malware. These issues resulted from fragmented solutions being pieced together without any purposeful design.

Integrated at the DSP level, the buyers.json specification should make it much harder for bad actors to operate, eventually delivering an optimal, high-quality user experience. The MediaMath SOURCE ecosystem continues to address these major issues facing the advertising industry – rampant fraud and a lack of transparency. We completely redesigned the blueprint for the digital media ecosystem from the ground up and have achieved our goal of creating a 100% accountable, addressable, and aligned digital media supply chain. While the industry’s challenges have intensified, we’ve been able to help the industry address them and are confident we’re prepared for whatever the future holds.

How will you be supporting these buyer transparency efforts with your clients and partners?

MediaMath does plan on adopting and supporting the Buy-Side Transparency initiatives buyers.json and DemandChain Object because they align with our SOURCE mission of creating a 100% accountable, addressable, and aligned digital media supply chain.

We do expect there to be a ramp-up period, and we are still assessing the precise details of implementation, especially considering the final version still has to go through public comment for possible revisions. There is still work to be done to create clarity and alignment between the end buyers, DSPs, and Suppliers on how this will empower an efficient supply chain. The ecosystem players need to agree to the value add and how to leverage it most effectively. The ecosystem needs to keep participating in conversations to continue solving for legal & confidentiality concerns in order to allow major adoption by the DSPs.

It is, however, expected that all of these questions will be resolved for the initiatives to move forward to broad implementation across the ecosystem. We will work to ensure that as these initiatives are rolled out, the specs are utilized in ways that protect our clients and partners, while supporting our commitment to a clean and transparent ecosystem.

For an explainer article on these buy side transparency standards please click here