WTF is Sellers.json?

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Hot on the heels of anti-mobile app fraud tool app-ads.txt, the IAB Tech Lab has released yet another pithily named tool, comprising two parts: Sellers.json and OpenRTB Supply Chain Object.

Both come as a package and are designed to give ad buyers more confidence in the multiple vendors involved in the reselling of an impression throughout the digital ad supply chain — not just the first reseller. The goal: to help increase overall confidence that buyers are not being duped by shady players who aren’t authorized to resell a publisher’s inventory.

Still unsure what it is? Here’s a primer.

WTF is Sellers.json?
Think of ads.txt and app-ads.txt, which are both crack-downs on two types of ad fraud: the unauthorized reselling of inventory and domain spoofing. Sellers.json is the next step on from that, just using a json rather than a txt file. While ads.txt enables ad buyers to see what ad tech vendors publishers have authorized to sell their inventory, it only went so deep. Ad tech vendors buying and selling impressions on the open exchange typically work with a vast array of intermediary resellers, all of which work with other resellers. That complex web of players involved in the sale of every impression, makes it virtually impossible to keep track of who is reselling whose inventory, and whether they’re authorized to by the vendor that has the direct relationship with the publisher. Until now.

So how does it work exactly?
Sellers.json is a bit like the SSP’s version of the publisher’s ads.txt file. In the file, SSPs and exchanges will have to list all their authorized reseller partners along with their seller ID and any detail on the legal entity that owns that company.

Right. What about the OpenRTB Supply Chain Object?
This is like the record of what has happened to an impression. It lets buyers see what sellers and resellers have been involved in each bid request. It comprises a set of “nodes,” each representing a vendor that has participated in the selling of a bid request. It will also identify the vendor who was the final reseller in the chain. Buyers can match them to seller IDs given by publishers in ads.txt files and decide whether or not they’re bona fide partners. “The DSP and advertiser side, should see the information on who sold it to them, and all the people beneath that on the path back to the publisher,” said Matt McIyntre, head of programmatic, EMEA at Essence.

Who does this benefit?
In theory, everyone. No one should hurt from it except dodgy players who shouldn’t be operating in the first place. If it increases confidence for ad buyers and DSPs to buy ads on the open exchange knowing every single reseller involved in the process, then they may be more likely to increase spend. Trust has been eroded over time among various players in the supply chain. Certain advertisers have lost trust in their agencies, likewise agencies in their DSPs, and publishers in their SSPs. Both buy and sell sides of the chain have shed vendors over the last year. While ads.txt helped to reduce domain spoofing and unauthorized reselling of inventory, it can be gamed. Plus, it doesn’t provide end-to-end transparency. This, in theory does.

“This creates a lot more confidence around the reseller pipes,” said McIyntre. “It will be firmly on the DSPs using this extra information to do the checking,” If they should find there is a vendor in there that shouldn’t be, they can block it, he added.

Is it hard to implement?
Shouldn’t be. They’re compatible with the current version of the Open real-time bidding framework 2.5, rather than the next version 3.0. That means it is compatible with the current technology infrastructure, unlike ads.cert, which is the more secure version of ads.txt designed to work in the 3.0 version which hasn’t been rolled out or adopted yet.

Any downsides?
There is an option within the Sellers.json that enables a vendor to label an account confidential, meaning they don’t disclose who they are. They may not choose to do so, but if they do then it provides a transparency blockage. There could well be legitimate reasons to mask, like it could be part of a contract if a business is providing white-label services for instance. But it is a potential loop hole.

What’s the next step?
The tools have just been released by IAB Tech Lab OpenRTB Working Group for industry review. So they will be talked about for a while, and feedback will be offered within a 30-day window. They may be adjusted according to those, and then released.

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