Ad Tech & Programmatic

Q&A: Arielle Garcia on why she joined Check My Ads

The former UM chief privacy officer said marketers have the chance to “demand more” when it comes to sniffing out bad ad placements.
article cover

Faye Orlove

· 5 min read

Ad tech has another snoop on the beat.

Arielle Garcia, the former chief privacy and responsibility officer of UM Worldwide, has joined the nonprofit Check My Ads as the group’s director of intelligence.

Marketing Brew spoke with Garcia about her new gig and about the importance of researchers who regularly spray bleach on the fungus that is ad-tech’s mold.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Congrats. Why did you join Check My Ads?

It’s funny, because a lot of the reactions that I’ve heard, apart from “Great, that’s fantastic, this is exciting,” is “that makes sense.” And it really did make sense. I had chatted with [Check My Ads co-founders] Claire [Atkin] and Nandini [Jammi] a few times since I left UM [last year]. I think we kind of got to the same place at the same time, which is: How do we get as far upstream as possible to have the greatest impact on the industry as possible?

When you think about the way things are now, there are three main drivers: the opacity in the industry, the surveillance advertising business model, and the power that Big Tech platforms, and Google in particular, have amassed. The fact that we were kind of aligned on the challenges at hand, and the fact that they’re certainly effective at actually driving change and not just talking about it, was something that was a really exciting opportunity to me.

What do you see yourself working on specifically? Do you know what your day-to-day will look like?

The first kind of area of opportunity is to really do some more in-depth, longer-term research projects. Check My Ads really wrote the playbook on using the power of sunlight to root out some of the backward incentive structures of the industry…Data-enabled harms are something that I’m particularly interested in.

Another thing that’s particularly interesting and problematic within the industry is the power dynamics and some of the corruption. Within five minutes of waking up this morning, I saw five different trade association events with Google’s logo on them as the key sponsor. I think there’s some interesting reporting to do on how these organizations that have influence on the industry actually work.

The other part of this, beyond research, is the opportunity to stand up new programs, something that I’m really excited about.

I want to ask explicitly: What do you see as corruption in the advertising industry?

The latest example of this has been the Forbes-MFA scandal. It’s easy to look at that and say, “Yes, Forbes did something dodgy.” “You could look at it and say, “all of the SSPs, like, were dodgy.” All of that is true and fine.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.

I want to understand why there’s a billion-dollar third-party verification industry that doesn’t do its job, that’s certified by two trade groups or accreditation bodies that seem fairly slow to respond until their feet are put to the fire.

Made-for-advertising (MFA) sites continue to be a hot-button issue. We’ve been writing about it since 2021, and we’re still talking about it in 2024.

I think that’s a similar example to third-party cookie deprecation: we’re focusing on the wrong thing. The MFA issue is an incentive structure issue. The mechanisms and entities that are supposed to be the most outraged about it are the ones that seem to be sitting on their hands about it. The issue is a downstream symptom. The bigger problem is that there’s a business model problem and an opacity problem…[Advertisers] went from caring about the quality of their media to being told that “Hey, we can reach whoever you want to reach wherever they are at that time.” Except, good luck checking that’s what’s actually happening. That’s really the opportunity—to unwind a lot of these downstream problems.

Why is it up to researchers to find this stuff? How are the media buyers not doing this? How are the agency people not doing this? How are the verification companies not doing this work? Why is that the dynamic in the industry, do you think?

Again, it’s incentive structures. I talked before about the trade associations’ role in some of the dysfunction, and in some cases, they're actually propping up the dysfunction.

In other cases, it’s more like their failure to stop it. You see the same type of backward incentives with agencies, for sure. And when you look at legacy third-party verification vendors, they operate on a CPM-based model, [so] they make their money either way…Marketers have an opportunity to put an end to that, demand more, and [perform] actual auditing.

You previously worked on the privacy side. Do you think the industry is prepared for federal privacy legislation?

No, I do not…I don’t actually understand what the plan is beyond lobbying, and it frankly seems like the people that are making the decision to not make any contingency plans are just hoping to get out before the house of cards collapses.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.