Blockchain: Do We Need A New Trust Protocol?

The New Yorker could rerun Peter Steiner’s famous 1993 cartoon of one dog talking to another without revision.

Online, the problem Steiner points to still exists. An undeniable difficulty in reliably establishing online identity, or trust in another netizen without some kind of validation from a third party like a bank or government.

Beyond this you have a separate problem; the very intermediaries acting as a ‘trusted’ third party have built business models exploiting this position to utilise personal details for commercial gain.

Both point toward an overall loss of faith consumers have in the media industry.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer survey for example, surveys tens of thousands of people across dozens of countries and found that ‘media’ in 2017 had taken its biggest ever year-on-year hit and is distrusted by 82% of the countries surveyed.

It’s likely this is political.

False news stories generated more engagement on the social network than election stories from 19 major news outlets combined including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, NBC News and others.

BuzzFeed released a story late last year showing that false election news articles outperformed real news on Facebook during the final months of the Presidential election.

These false news stories generated more engagement on the social network than election stories from 19 major news outlets combined including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, NBC News and others.

Tumbling trust was not helped in March either when a WPP-backed agency published a report that brought to the fore the uncomfortable truth surrounding ‘Bot fraud’. It suggested that figures as high as $12.48bn, almost 20% of the $66bn spent on digital advertising globally every year is fraudulent.

Bot fraud, simply put, is where fraudulent players game the system in a way that alters measurements favourably. Its sophistication has evolved over time, but perhaps most concerning is the use of bots to create fake impressions on higher-end content. It’s a medium with the highest CPM, and therefore most lucrative for those behind it.

Creating a new trust protocol

Leaders such as The & Partnership founder, John Hornby, upon publishing the bot fraud report implored Google and Facebook to “stop marking their own homework.”

He called for transparency and a display of arms among the industry to come together in target of the problem. This is one approach. An entire industry rallying together to rebuild trust whilst sharing the blame between them. It is worth noting these cries were heard by the techopoly, with Facebook (any day now) set to allow anyone to see any ad run by any organization.

There’s also another approach. One less reliant on profit pursuing organisations drinking their own kool-aid: Blockchain. Blockchain could replace all the nastiness that comes with untrusting third-party intermediaries and replace it with an insurmountable trust machine. In 1997 Nick Szabo wrote a short paper called “The God Protocol,” a twist on the Nobel laureate Higgs Boson’s work in physics called the “The God Particle.”

Szabo describes the creation of a be-all-end-all technology protocol, one that designated ‘God’ as the trusted third party in the middle of all transactions.

He wrote “All the parties would send their inputs to God. God would then reliably determine the results and return the outputs. God being the ultimate in confessional discretion, no party would learn anything more about the other parties’ inputs than they could learn from their own inputs and the output.”

What Szabo was describing nearly 20 years ago is the very foundation of Blockchain technology. And today, it’s implications are the manufacturing of trust through a few lines of code.

Essentially it is a ledger that possesses two critical features. One is that every record created is permanent and lasts as long as the Blockchain does. Second, is that the ledger is distributed between every participant in the Blockchain, with each user maintaining a complete copy.

Through Blockchain protocol it is possible for every person to know exactly what is and isn’t true. This could clear up questions like: has my information been used beyond what I have said it can be used for? Or has this banner ad been viewed by a real person, or a fraudulent bot?

The initial areas of scope are fraud, measurement, discrepancy reconciliation for billing purposes, financial transactions, and validation of advertising resources and assets. But this is early days.

What adChain enables is multiple parts of the industry to work together, from agency, to publisher, to marketer, through a manufactured trust protocol.

In mid 2017, Digiday wrote of MetaX and the Data & Marketing association launching adChain, an open protocol on the Ethereum Blockchain that tags a piece of creative and “follows it to make sure someone sees it, determining who it was as well as what actions were taken afterward.”

What adChain enables is multiple parts of the industry to work together, from agency, to publisher, to marketer, through a manufactured trust protocol. adChain is just one of many use cases.

The author of ‘Blockchain Revolution’, Alex Tapscott, a seminal book on the subject says “there are few technical barriers. Blockchain has proved itself robust and adaptable to dozens of high-impact use cases. Companies to develop compelling enough applications so that it can make a real impact. This is already happening.”

Jack Hershman

Jack Hershman

Digital Content Coordinator at Advertising Week Europe
Jack is digital content coordinator for Advertising Week Europe. He focusses his attention on all things social, podcasting and video. You’ll likely find him looking for whatever he recently misplaced.
Jack Hershman
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