Google to Allow Independent Audit of YouTube Ad Performance Metrics

The Media Rating Council will audit and accredit data that YouTube provides to advertisers about how their display and video ads fare on the video sharing platform.

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Google will allow the Media Rating Council to audit the ad viewing metrics and measurements that it reports to advertisers on its YouTube video sharing site.

The goal is to reassure advertisers that the viewing statistics and other data Google provides them—directly or through third-party firms—about how their ads fare on YouTube are accurate and reliable.

The MRC is an industry body that was established in the 1960s under the direction of the U.S. Congress to ensure that the audience measurement data and services provided by TV, cable, radio and other entities are valid and effective.

Its main role is to accredit audience measurement services so advertisers have some reassurance about the accuracy of the data they receive about ad effectiveness and views online, on TV and elsewhere.

With this week's announcement, Google has agreed to let the MRC audit the data provided by Moat, Integral Ad Science and DoubleVerify, three companies that Google uses to give advertisers metrics on the quality of their ad buys on YouTube.

The MRC will audit the data collection, aggregation and reporting practices the firms use in reporting data about served video impressions, viewable impressions and other data to YouTube advertisers, said Babak Pahlavan, director of product management at Google's analytics solutions and measurement group, in a blog.

"Transparency and trust are the core principles of our measurement strategy," Pahlavan said. "We strongly believe in the need for third-party accreditation through the Media Rating Council (MRC)." 

The MRC already audits and accredits about 30 other similar Google measurements. In addition, Google is currently seeking MRC accreditation for ad statistics related to AdWords and DoubleClick Bid Manager, Pahlavan said.

Google's move to allow MRC audits comes amid what some have described as growing questions about how third parties like Moat and DoubleVerify collect viewability data and time spent on a display or video ad from massive platforms like YouTube and Facebook. The data is critical to determining the budgets advertisers spend on these sites.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in a report last November, YouTube and Facebook have never allowed advertisers and ad agencies to directly track ad performance on their respective platforms. Instead, advertisers have had to rely on the data provided by the third-party audience measurement services to make decisions about advertising spending and budgets on YouTube and Facebook.

Advertisers have for some time wanted greater transparency on how exactly such third-party services collect ad performance data from these platforms. There is some concern that the third parties are not collecting data independently but are simply evaluating data that Google and Facebook provide, the Journal had noted.

Concerns over the validity of the data were exacerbated last year by reports that Facebook had substantially exaggerated the length of time that users spent on average watching videos on its platform.

Google too has had its share of issues. Last year, the MRC briefly suspended its accreditation for ad measurements associated with Google's DoubleClick ad business for non-compliance with its standards. "In 2017, we'll continue to seek ways to raise the bar on transparent and trustworthy measurement, and we welcome your partnership along the way," Pahlavan said.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.