Could blockchain help combat Mideast digital ad fraud?

Blockchain technology could help to create a more even playing field for the much manipulated digital advertising industry. (Reuters)
Updated 06 March 2018
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Could blockchain help combat Mideast digital ad fraud?

LONDON: “Blockchain will completely change programmatic digital advertising,” asserts Daniel Gouldman, co-founder of Ternio, a blockchain technology for the digital advertising industry.
He is discussing programmatic advertising and the issue of transparency — an enduring issue for the industry and especially so in the Middle East.
“Let me paint a picture,” he said. “If blockchain technology is able to help save anywhere from 5 to 10 percent for advertisers, every single dollar spent on digital advertising is going to migrate to blockchain-based advertising. I think (the savings) are going to be much more than that, but that’s all it would take.
“As soon as that happens it would be completely negligent behavior for a brand or ad agency to leave that kind of money on the table, and eventually anyone who doesn’t embrace it either won’t be able to be competitive or their customers will spend their money with those who can get better results. It all comes down to ROI (return on investment). Every dollar transacted in digital ads will be transacted on blockchain. Period.”
Programmatic advertising — essentially the automated purchasing of digital ads — has suffered a lengthy run of bad publicity. From concerns over brand safety and ad fraud, to misleading ad reach measurement, the technology once heralded as the future of digital advertising has taken a battering.
At the heart of the issue are transparency and trust. Even the most ardent believers in programmatic believe it needs to undergo a clean-up, with Gouldman stating that an estimated $50 million a day is lost globally from mostly criminal behavior in the digital advertising industry.
“The ad industry has for sometime had a problem with where your ad appears, if it appears at all, if a human or a bot is viewing it, or some click farm out of Asia is simply delivering those numbers,” said Jonathan Oliver, global chief creative officer at adtech start-up Unlockd.
“It is suggested that over a third of all digital traffic is not human but some type of bot, so as a rule of thumb we could suggest that at least a third of a brand’s digital marketing budget may also be somewhat less than authentic.”
It is a global issue that many are trying to solve and also ties in to other concerns over transparency and the practices of media agencies.
Marc Pritchard, global marketing and brand building officer at Procter & Gamble, has been effusive in his condemnation of media agency rebates and arbitrage, while Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing and communications officer, has stated that agencies must adhere to his three V’s — viewability, value and verification.
“If we don’t solve these issues then this opaqueness will be like a cancer eating the advertising industry,” said Oliver.
Which is where blockchain — a decentralized unhackable database that many believe can help solve the problems facing programmatic — comes in. Almost like a global spreadsheet that runs on millions of computers, it provides a way to record and transfer data that is transparent, safe and auditable.
Tej Desai, strategy lead at Dubai-based media agency BPG Maxus, believes blockchain can “play a crucial role in addressing the current top-of-mind issues over trust, safety and the pursuit of transparency in online media.” It is, he adds, required to “reinstate the marketing industry’s faith in the effectiveness of digital advertising.”
“Programmatic’s endeavor to deliver large scale at low prices has brought to the forefront the tension between scale and vetted quality and transparency,” said Desai. “Lately we have witnessed several multinational corporations pulling back on programmatic with little decline for their businesses, adding a greater sense of urgency to addressing the issue.
“The principles of blockchain can essentially help monitor and govern budget spend, and thereby help advertisers to track investment from the initial transfer of media budget to the final release of the creative with the media owner. This can totally address the current issue of lack of transparency — avoiding overcharging and under performance.”
To date there has been limited movement with regards to blockchain technology available to the advertising industry, but that is changing. Ternio is one of a handful of companies set to launch this year, while others are in the process of trialling their products. In Asia, for example, Mindshare has partnered with blockchain firm Zilliqa to test whether the company’s blockchain protocol can be used to address the challenges plaguing programmatic.
“There are several different companies right now that are using or testing blockchain to prevent fraud in digital advertising, not least of which is IBM’s announced partnership with Unilever on this very issue,” adds Gouldman.
“Blockchain is going to allow for us to track every single intermediary in the supply chain and that is going to prove particularly valuable to all of those who provide value within the supply chain itself. Transparency is such a basic request in theory, but in practice the execution has been horrible.”
Interestingly, Dubai also plans to be the first blockchain-powered government, with blockchain part of the Dubai 10X initiative.
“Since blockchain is open source, anyone can see the underlying code and what’s going on,” said Desai. “It’s an immutable, unhackable distributed database of digital assets. It is designed to store information in a way that makes it virtually impossible to add, remove or change data without being detected by other users. In this idea of distributed database, trust is established through mass collaboration and clever code rather than a powerful institution that does the authentication and settlement.
Thus this technology has the ability to make the organizations that use it transparent, democratic, decentralized, efficient, and secure … something our industry is currently longing for.”


Iraqis fill the Mosul airwaves after Daesh radio silence

Updated 22 June 2018
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Iraqis fill the Mosul airwaves after Daesh radio silence

  • After Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk
  • On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city

MOSUL: During the Daesh group’s rule in Mosul, radio stations were banned and replaced with broadcasts of militant propaganda. Today, young Iraqis are filling the city’s airwaves.
One budding presenter is Nour Tai, who at 16 years old faces the microphone with a confident tone and a professional style.
She hosts a weekly program on One FM, a Mosul station launched in February that broadcasts a mix of music, entertainment and current affairs debates.
Her career began a year ago thanks to a talent show organized by Al-Ghad, a station in the Kurdish city of Irbil which hosted many of those displaced from Iraq’s second city.
She said at the time that she was passionate about radio because “it touches everyone.”
“I want to be part of it,” she said.
She now sits in the One FM studio, accompanied by her father, as a degenerative illness left her blind three years ago.
She says her aim is to “give people hope, especially those who suffer from a handicap.”
“I want to tell everyone that we can all contribute something and that we can realize our dreams,” she says from the cramped studio.
The launch of One FM came six months after Iraqi forces declared victory over Daesh following three years of brutal militant rule in Iraq’s second city.
Daesh had shut down independent radio stations and anyone caught tuning in could expect severe physical punishment.
The emergence of stations such as One FM is a step in the city’s transformation since Daesh was ousted following a vast, months-long operation.
Young presenters are busy 24 hours a day, producing and broadcasting shows which are also filmed for broadcast on the radio’s website and social media accounts.
The channel is run by volunteers who bought the necessary equipment by pooling their savings, some selling their own belongings to fund the station.
Yassir Al-Qaissi, One FM’s head of communications, says their aim is to “denounce violence and extremism, and broaden people’s minds.”
There is a need to “erase the terrorist ideology and end the sickness of our society, such as sectarianism and racism,” the 28-year-old says.
Ahmad Al-Jaffal, 30, says the militant occupation “created a vacuum of thought.”
“With my program, I try to promote ideas of coexistence, of mutual understanding, and of acceptance of the other,” says Jaffal, who worked as a journalist prior to the Daesh takeover in 2014.
One FM is not the only ambitious new station on the local airwaves.
Mosul residents who took refuge in Irbil after the Daesh takeover of their city launched two stations: Al-Ghad and Start FM.
After Iraqi forces drove the militants from Mosul, One FM was launched and Mosul FM started broadcasting from the nearby region of Dohuk.
That means it has more radio stations than the two state-run channels it had under former dictator Saddam Hussein.
All currently broadcast analogue signals and can only reach Mosul and its surroundings.
The US invasion in 2003 brought a multitude of new options for listeners, although these were co-opted by American occupying forces or political parties.
The period before the Daesh offensive was risky for journalists and presenters in Mosul, who were regularly targeted by Al-Qaeda and other militant groups.
Mohammad Salem, a sociologist, says the new stations will need government supervision to ensure that this time they are not misused for political or religious purposes — “especially as some of their funding sources are unknown.”
On the streets of Mosul, the radio shows bring a distraction from the struggles of life in the war-scarred city.
Taxi driver Mohammad Qassem, 27, says the music and entertainment shows are a welcome addition to his long days.
“We can finally listen to all the songs that IS deprived us of for three years,” he says happily, before pushing the volume up to maximum on his car radio.