A new brand-safety product from Integral Ad Science is off to a less than ideal start after the company promoted the tool’s technical chops through an open demo on its website last week.

The product, dubbed Context Control, is critical to IAS’s long term future, but its launch went south after IAS rival Check My Ads accessed the demo—which was available to everyone—and shared screenshots on social media showing it categorizing controversial websites such as 4Chan and InfoWars as “neutral.” IAS was swiftly criticized and within 24 hours, removed the demo from its website. But not everyone was in agreement that the tool was functioning incorrectly.

IAS insists its product worked as intended. The demo on its website measured sentiment, IAS says, which is not an endorsement of websites or publishers, but instead serves as one indicator of many when determining whether a piece of content is brand-safe. Its technology weighs all the negative, neutral and positive elements of content by checking what nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs are used. Although the majority of marketers wouldn’t classify InfoWars and 4Chan as brand safe, the sentiment on both of their respective homepages—which is what Check My Ads measured—does indeed use “neutral” language, IAS says…
… Joshua Lowcock, global brand safety officer at UM, believes brand safety is indeed a solvable problem, but says marketers shouldn’t just rely on any single solution.

“It should instead be a multifaceted strategy that looks at the publisher, context and even the creative being used by the advertiser to make sure that, in combination, they are a fit,” says Lowcock. “The industry needs to move away from keyword blocking, but even contextual tools are imperfect. You need to look at the publisher and ask yourself if they’re contributing good or harm to society.”

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