The IAB Tech Lab has released a new report on the challenges podcasters will need to navigate as they face stricter privacy restrictions at the hands of the big tech platforms that sit between them and their listeners. The IAB Podcast Technical Working Group says the changes will impact both advertising business models and content creation alike, and it is listing several moves it thinks podcasters and tech platforms should take to guarantee the continued growth of the medium.

The Podcast Technical Working Group undertook the effort after Apple last year released the beta version of its Private Relay feature for iCloud+ users and cut off a pipeline to some data that publishers relied upon.

“Podcast businesses immediately saw the potential impacts this could have on their businesses,” said IAB Tech Lab Senior Product Manager Katie Stroud. “While the podcast community is supportive of the need to respect user privacy, they find themselves in an awkward position when their already limited access to data about their downloaded content becomes more scarce,” she writes in a blog post.

Following the Apple move, the IAB Podcast Technical Working Group began studying the complications that podcasters could face when the large tech platforms unilaterally implement new privacy protection measures for their users.

Stroud said podcast content creators seldom have direct relationships with the platforms that distribute their content, which leaves them with “very limited data” that distribution platforms provide about their downloaded podcasts. And that poses a risk to the industry.

“Podcast creators, networks, and hosting and monetization platforms all use data to drive business. Data is used to inform what content to create, where to distribute it, how to comply with certain regional laws, how to fight bad actors and fraudulent advertising in the system, and of course, respect user privacy preferences,” said Stroud. “Given the unique nature of podcast content and the way it is consumed — downloaded with no client-side confirmation — the data about those downloads can only be provided by the device or app where the content was downloaded.”

The 17-page report from the IAB Podcast Technical Working Group details why the industry is so worried. It says if the frameworks like Apple’s Private Relay were widely adopted as currently constructed, it would “greatly harm” revenue for podcasting companies, which would “lead to a decline in content creation.”

It also points out that the measurement standards that regulate data usage in quality podcast environments are reliant on IP addresses, user agent, and geographic data. “Without access to these data points and the ability for the industry to use consistent standards, advertisers may reduce their investment in podcast environments, podcast creation could diminish as investment dips and podcasters attempt to find new ways to provide valuable metrics to their buyers,” it says. The report also says the lack of transparency could make podcast environments “an easy target” for ad fraud which would worsen the overall podcast user experience.

But the IAB group also acknowledges that there is room for reforms, especially on the advertising side of the business. “Where there’s money to be made, there are bad actors inflating the numbers, placing ads that create a bad user experience, and creating distrust among buyers looking to place their ads in a brand safe environment,” the report says.

IAB Seeks ‘Greater Collaboration’

Without a commitment to data sharing going forward, the Podcast Technical Working Group thinks it is more than just revenue at stake. It warns that content creation could “dissipate” too, since the metrics are used to help drive content creation and product development, book live events, and comply with regional regulations.

Faced with privacy challenges over access to data, the IAB Tech Lab is calling for “greater collaboration” between the tech platforms and the Podcast Working Group. It sees doing that through “increased and open dialogue” between Apple and other podcast distribution platforms and the IAB. It also wants the tech companies to help with the development of developing alternative ways to measure downloads and unique reach in a way that meets user privacy limits. The IAB is also seeking a commitment to providing minimum required data points such as geolocation. It says those listener insights will allow podcasters to comply with regional laws and regulations.

“We must take a holistic view of the podcast open ecosystem while crafting new privacy standards or there may be unintended consequences to podcast creators and their subscribers,” the report says. “We are not looking to undo privacy measures but find a solution that honors it while supporting the business models of the open ecosystem podcast industry.”

Read the IAB Tech Lab’s full guidance on podcast privacy HERE.