Let’s Change RTB: How a Trustless P2P Ad Network Can Transform Ad Tech

All too often, the challenges around ad delivery transparency and auditing the supply chain are assumed to be out of reach. One concept that isn’t on the table, however, but it should be, is a trustless peer-to-peer ad network.

All too often, the challenges around ad delivery transparency and auditing the supply chain are assumed to be out of reach. We might think that mergers are the only way to compress supply chains into trusted relationships. We have come to cast a skeptical eye on supposedly revolutionary solutions, such as blockchain technology, touted as a fix for almost everything but, as we have seen, no meaningful solutions have come out of the ICO craze of 2017. 

One concept that isn’t on the table, however, but it should be, is a trustless peer-to-peer ad network.

RTB Meets ‘Trustless’: A Network of Nodes for Protecting Our Ad Ecosystem

The definition of a trustless peer-to-peer ad network comes down to a collection of computers run by all the parties involved in ad delivery serving ads and sharing data that is cryptographically assured. When we say “trustless,” what we mean is that participants are not required to trust each other to be good actors. In this idea, we can unpack, and lean on, the very qualities that have led to the one real success in blockchain’s short, dramatic history — bitcoin. Let’s envision a system that looks like the following.

  • Imagine a network of nodes run by publishers, advertisers, and data brokers. Publishers broadcast forecasts of available inventory. Data brokers overlay these data with their authorized enrichment then re-publish this enhanced inventory. Micro-orders are placed by advertisers, including pixels for their auditing partners.
  • These orders could occur at a broker node, which would then place a corollary order with the publisher.
  • During a real-time request, matching and selection happen at the publisher nodes. Orders that don’t get fulfilled get pulled. Filled ads are settled instantly using bitcoin. Publishers and advertisers use their local fiat gateways to convert their bitcoin back and forth to their preferred currency.

Instead of real-time bidding to place every ad, we need to start thinking of putting “micro-orders” up front, filling ads in just one or two hops from consumer to publisher. This approach would be a vast improvement over high-latency chains of network calls for every request, allowing for the computational overhead of using encryption in every transaction. Only the participants in the transaction would be able to decrypt and see the transaction details.

To comply with the strict privacy laws coming online, we also must develop open ad SDKs that enable consumer devices to sign every ad placement digitally. This will allow companies to protect consumer data, and it allows consumers to collect and see their exposure during ad delivery. For this level of transparency, advertisers, utilizing bitcoin lightning network, attach a payment that can only be “cashed-in” once the ad delivers and audit pixels are verified.

Addressing the Float, Eliminating the Payment Delay

Brands and agencies have historically taken advantage of credit terms with publishers, recently to an extreme. This delayed payment is called the “float” – the amount of money that a publisher could collect if the buyer paid right away. One reason this deferred payment is currently necessary is that the buyer needs time to validate that their advertising funds have been put to good use. While advantageous for buyers, publishers are left to perform financial gymnastics to operate their businesses waiting to get paid. 

Within the envisioned network, however, the quid-pro-quo that motivates both sides to participate amounts to total transparency traded for the elimination of the float. By utilizing cryptographic means, the financial details are only visible to participating parties allowing a fully public infrastructure.

Call to Action: Creating the Trustless P2P Future Means Collaboration

To realize this vision, we’ll need to develop technologies: SDKs for devices, libraries, development of the peer-to-peer protocol, open ad serving capabilities, and the real-time settlement piece. To achieve this vision, we need to form a collaborative and organized approach — a consortium, perhaps — one that is engaged in the development of new protocols. The benefits of achieving this are game-changing, allowing global advertising to operate in a way that consumers can trust to be respectful, provably free of fraudulent supply, capable of fully traceable advertising payloads, and that complies with regulation by definition.

Karim Nassar is Vice President Ad Tech and Optimization at Verve.

More Stories