Commentary

The Role Of Auditing In Emerging Media

I'd like to address a recent column published in Metrics Insider by MediaSmith's David L. Smith where he questions a new Digital Technology Accreditation program recently launched by ABCi, ABC's interactive auditing unit.

We at ABCi wholeheartedly agree that under the most ideal of circumstances, audits are conducted against a set of industry developed and approved standards. We have been involved in the move to develop industry standards since our inception more than 10 years ago. We are a member of the IAB and, like many other interactive auditors, have worked with them and their members to draft standards, including the current Audience Measurement Guidelines that are under review. We consistently base our audit programs on these published standards and, as they have evolved over the years, we have changed our audit practices to mirror them.

But while we're waiting for the industry to approve new standards, the Internet and its digital technologies are growing at a record-breaking rate. New companies are creating innovative technologies that are gaining steam. They seek the credibility that comes from an independent third-party audit and accreditation process. These businesses want to report against an industry standard but they can't always afford to wait a year or more while these standards are drafted, vetted and finally approved. Their business models and clients are demanding independent reviews and validation of their systems now. As David mentioned, several interactive auditors including ABCi, BPA and IMServices have stepped up to the plate and offered these companies the audits they, and their clients, are demanding.

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ABCi's Digital Technology Accreditation program offers this independent verification for a variety of emerging technologies that may currently lack industry standards such as widget reporting systems, e-newsletter delivery systems and gaming platforms. Where applicable, we reference the IAB's Rich Media Standards, the Interactive Audience Measurement and Advertising Campaign Reporting and Audit Guidelines and, as soon as they are published, we will certainly apply the Audience Measurement Guidelines.

While this service does not accredit entire log-based analytics systems, ABCi does offer a separate audit service that verifies Web traffic for individual sites based on log files. We are well aware of the problems translating cookies to users, but there are also concerns about the accuracy of panel-based measurement. As I recently explained in this whitepaper, both forms of measurement have limitations and both benefit from the oversight of an independent third-party audit. We are hopeful that the IAB's upcoming Audience Measurement Guidelines will not only address some of these outstanding issues but also serve as a vehicle to educate the market about the different forms of measurement. Many of our members are also eagerly awaiting these standards so that they can meet the industry guidelines.

Now that we, and other auditors, are conducting in-depth reviews of these burgeoning technologies, we gladly offer our experiences and knowledge to the IAB and other industry groups so that we may work together to develop industry standards. Once these standards are in place, we will review our auditing methodology and make any necessary changes to align with the guidelines.

But until those standards are created, I think David is missing a key point. While some companies are willing to sit back and wait for the industry to develop guidelines and practices, others are not. Companies that voluntarily undergo audits before they are common industry practice should be commended for their commitment to accountability and transparency. These are the industry leaders that are first to put their technologies and practices under intense scrutiny. In turn, the knowledge that we gain from their audits can be shared with others to determine future industry standards and benefit the entire industry.

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