John Clyman
3 min read

Buyers.json Brings Greater Transparency to the Buy Side

The widespread adoption of transparency efforts like ads.txt, sellers.json, and Supply Chain Object (schain) has given buyers far greater clarity into the inventory they’re purchasing programmatically. A similar level of transparency into demand has been long overdue. Last year we emphasized the need to close this gap, and after extensive collaboration with the IAB Tech Lab and other industry leaders, we’re pleased that a proposed standard for buyers.json and a DemandChain Object (or dchain) were published today for public comment.

These new standards offer the promise of achieving closer parity in transparency between the buy and sell sides of the industry. They have a particular role to play in helping defend against malvertising and similarly severe ad-quality violations. To protect sellers and their site visitors and app users, and to encourage continued growth of safe programmatic advertising, we encourage the industry at large to begin learning about and planning to adopt buyers.json and dchain.

Demand-Side Transparency is Overdue

Past seller transparency standards have been extremely successful in allowing DSPs and other buyers to verify supply sources and determine the full chain of entities supplying inventory offered in bid requests, and to use this information to make informed buying decisions and combat fraud and invalid traffic.

What we’ve been missing is the reverse view. Sellers need to be able to see all the companies participating in purchasing ads on their site, to make informed decisions about risk and value, and to police behavior such as unexpected reselling and arbitrage. And third parties like ad-quality vendors need data to help identify and impede bad actors that might abuse the lack of transparency for their own nefarious ends.

Until now, much of the needed information has remained opaque, or has been communicated in non-standard, non-programmatic, non-scalable ways. Buyers.json and DemandChain Object propose a unified mechanism allowing everyone in the industry to trace the provenance of ads to and through specific business entities.

To be more specific, consider an all-too-common scenario: A bad actor begins distributing malvertising, at first through a particular seat at one DSP. Sellers, SSPs, or third-party ad-quality vendors may be able to identify a particular creative that’s responsible — but that doesn’t tell them the actual business entity that is benefiting. When they block that creative or that buyer seat, the same bad actor just pops up unnoticed on another DSP, because there’s no existing standard for declaring who the actual entity purchasing programmatic transaction is (other than with DSP-specific seat identifiers).

What Comes Next

Now there’s a path toward more clarity. Buyers.json provides a mapping between opaque seat identifiers and actual business entities. Complementing that mapping, DemandChain Object shows the various parties involved in delivering a (potentially dangerous) creative to help trace back to the source.

Along with the draft specs themselves, the IAB Tech Lab has published a draft implementation guide for public comment. The guide provides insight into what specific steps different types of companies in the industry can do to support buyers.json and dchain.

Specs are only useful to the extent they’re adopted. We encourage DSPs, brands, and agencies to recognize that participating in the effort will help reduce abusive behavior that hurts content producers and end users, and that some studies show even contributes to the installation of ad blockers. And we encourage everyone else to raise their voices in support of this and other transparency efforts that can enhance safety and confidence in the programmatic ecosystem.

For our part here at Magnite, we’ve been advocates of this buyer-transparency effort since the start. We’re already planning our own support for buyers.json and dchain, first for informational purposes, and ultimately to satisfy sellers’ need for more control over demand that serves on their content and affects their user experience. We welcome you to join us.