There was an unexpected error authorizing you. Please try again.

Tech Lab Introduces Additional Consumer Privacy Safeguards into Content and Audience Taxonomies

In Public Comment Until April 30

Consumer trust – and our ability to demonstrate the responsible handling of consumer data – is foundational to our industry’s role in supporting independent content and services on the open internet. IAB and IAB Tech Lab member companies, as part of ongoing efforts to put privacy-by-design principles into practice, today introduced three additional safeguards into some of the most widely used standards in its portfolio – OpenRTB (Real-Time-Bidding), Content Taxonomy, and Audience Taxonomy – that are now available for public comment through April 30th, 2020.

The Content Taxonomy has evolved over time to provide publishers with a consistent and easy way to organize their website content. For example, to differentiate “sports” vs. “news” vs. “wellness” material. IAB Tech Lab’s new Content Taxonomy 2.1 specification provides additional utility aimed at minimizing the risk that content categorization signals could be used to generate sensitive data points about things like race, politics, religion or other personal characteristics that could result in discrimination. While the Content Taxonomy itself doesn’t constitute sensitive data – it simply categorizes page content, and does not on its own reveal information about a user – there are few technical controls preventing taxonomy nodes being associated with individual IDs to build behavioral profiles over time based on content preferences. Content Taxonomy 2.1 helps to limit this possibility by introducing a “sensitive data” flag to taxonomy nodes that could be used to generate this data, and provides a clear signal to supply chain participants regarding the privacy implications of storing it.

In parallel, IAB Tech Lab has released updated AdCOM (Advertising Common Object Model) / OpenRTB 3.0 guidance to specify that all exchanges that use the protocol – which together constitute the vast majority of activity in the programmatic ecosystem – should account for all local legislation and not pass any content taxonomy node that is flagged as “sensitive data”. This guidance was also applied to specific sections of the protocol, including the Ad Object, Content Object, Publisher Object, User Object, and Data Object. Together with the additional sensitive data signals contained within the Content Taxonomy, downstream platforms should now have much more context to inform data storage and segmentation practices. The updated OpenRTB 3.0 specification can be found here on IAB Tech Lab’s Github.

Lastly, IAB Tech Lab released an update to its Audience Taxonomy, a cousin of the more widely used Content Taxonomy. The Audience Taxonomy provides a common nomenclature for audience segment naming conventions, and promotes comparability of data across different providers when different language is used to describe the same type of segment. It is a key element in IAB Tech Lab’s Data Transparency Standard (, which promotes consistent labeling of audience data by first-party and third-party sources. The release of Audience Taxonomy 1.1 aligns much of the nomenclature with the new Content Taxonomy updates, and deprecates segment names that could be used to describe sensitive data types.

These updates to Content Taxonomy, OpenRTB 3.0, and Audience Taxonomy represent another step in our industry’s journey to architect itself around privacy-by-design principles and mature in meaningful ways towards a more transparent and accountable supply-chain. These specifications will continue to evolve throughout the year in response to market needs, especially the taxonomies, which can play an increased role in supporting brand safety classifications within news content. There is still a lot of important work to do within IAB and Tech Lab groups to harmonize privacy and personalization within the open web, and we need advertisers, agencies, publishers, and platforms to lean into the challenge. You can view the updated Content Taxonomy here and Audience Taxonomy here, and submit feedback directly to To engage in IAB Tech Lab’s broader efforts to apply privacy-by-design concepts to the supply chain, please consider signing up for one of our many working groups.


Benjamin Dick
Senior Director, Product – Privacy, Identity, & Data
IAB Tech Lab