Every company that profits from the internet should have a concept of ethics, says AppNexus APAC MD

AppNexus APAC MD Sonal Patel talks ethics and working with the trading desks

This week AppNexus has scored itself a bit of a publicity trifecta: emerging as one of the ethical frontrunners in a cross-industry response to ‘hate speech’ on publications such as Breitbart; getting a shout out in GroupM’s major digital launch [m]Platform, and the rumours that its IPO is imminent.

In Asia Pacific these three factors are no less keenly felt than elsewhere and The Drum spoke to APAC managing director Sonal Patel about how these big global waves are gaining momentum.

AppNexus and Breitbart

AppNexus came out as one of the first businesses to blacklist Breitbart, after it ran a human audit which concluded that the title regularly carried content that incited hatred and violence. This comes as a number of brands including Kellogg’s have stated publicly spoken of their efforts to have ads removed from the divisive website.

It’s a subject that Patel feels passionately about, recently she published a LinkedIn post on the subject, and it's a stance that her company supports fully, she says.

“There isn’t enough proactive behavior at the moment and partially that is because the industry, and programmatic itself, is about being automated. It’s a driven process and that is why things slip through but every company that profits from the internet, through ads or direct subscription, should have some concept of ethics and morality around policing what they are doing as part of that equation,” adds Patel.

This policy, she says, was arrived at when the company decided to combine the automation of policing with human efforts, such as manual audits. While the decision by AppNexus was taken due to rules on hate speech, not about political content, she believes that there are learnings to be taken about ethics from this year's US presidential election.

"If I think about what happened with Donald Trump, part of that is because of the machine behind the publications – bots behind tweets, etc," she says, commenting on the difficulties in "policing" the internet.

Patel adds that premium content providers, or those who are profiting from it, are best placed to do so. "You have to take responsibility but you can’t take responsibility for the whole internet, just the transactions around ads,” she adds.

How it works with agencies using APB

Running parallel to this, another major news story to take place this week was the launch of [m]Platform – GroupM's overhaul to its media technology business in which Xaxis and GroupM Connect which will provide a more joined-up service for brands.

Prior to the announcement, however, AppNexus had already announced that it is working with Xaxis on a co-pilot scheme to harness machine learning and create smarter advertising.

She says this partnership has been driven by three trends: agency trading desks needing to drive efficiencies; publishers growing wise to such opportunities, and the growth of brands' own trading desks.

“What Xaxis is essentially looking at is using it as a driver of efficiencies for internal campaigns, as well as looking at what they’ll do with it externally. If you think about AppNexus Programmable Bidder (APB), it’s a product we work through directly with the marketers and the agencies. The term here is ‘agencies’ as both Xaxis and GroupM Connect are one part removed from the agencies, so they have to sell the concept [of programmatic] through MindShare, MEC, Maxus, etc, before you can get the adoption,” she explains.

She says publishers are also wising-up to the idea that they don’t own users but the engagement and data, and simultaneously brands are opening up their own trading desks, such as HSBC’s Project Vulcan.

“With that in mind, the next iteration is to take APB and put it on top of some trading desks that leverage our algorithm and solution to get a greater understanding,” she says, adding that the convergence of adtech and martech prompting this decision.

“APB is the next iteration that’s going to start changing the conversation in helping partners like Xaxis become much more synergised with what particular agencies want,” she explains.

Those IPO whispers

The final part of the publicity hat-trick are rumours of AppNexus' imminent IPO, but while the company isn’t commenting on these – and The Drum spoke to Patel before the most recent speculation became public – it’s clear the company is aiming high. In discussing the adoption of martech, Patel believes that AppNexus’ competition will not be other adtech partners but Google, Facebook and the martech providers like Oracle and Adobe.

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