Putting Out Fires: Ric Elert, Conversant Help People in Need

Ric Elert, president at Conversant, serves on FIA’s board. Conversant is one of FIA’s top partners.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

And where there’s fire, there’s now geo-targeted alerts urging people to steer clear of the affected area.

Ric Elert knows the drill.

Elert, president of Conversant, a personalized digital marketing agency, has helped douse the flames on potential disasters alongside the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) for years.


FIA uses Conversant’s technology to locate and warn those in danger.

“Back in the old days, if the store’s on fire, everyone grabs a bucket to go help,” said Elert, who was recently named to Crain’s Chicago Tech 50, highlighting those on the cutting edge of technology. “It’s not just, ‘Where’s the firemen?’ And FIA is the easiest form of that. It’s making your capabilities available to save a kid.”

FIA began as a partnership between Conversant and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in January 2011 with the intent to prevent child abductions via geo-targeted AMBER Alerts.

“Conversant started out as personalized advertising, so we’re always big on one-to-one communication,” Elert said. “When it started, our thought was, ‘How do we give back to the community? And what are the ways to enable our precision messaging to help people?’”

Big Data, Big Results 

After roughly three months of testing, Conversant propelled FIA to go live with its first AMBER Alert, a child abduction in Florida. The results were staggering.

Within an hour of the system kicking on, FIA President Jason Bier received an unexpected phone call from the NCMEC.

“We were serving so many AMBER Alerts in Florida, we brought down their entire system,” Bier said. “So we had to stop the AMBER Alert, and this is what made us realize how powerful this thing is. It was a wakeup call.

“We turned it off, fixed the problem, cached the photo locally and took the load off of the 911 system. The child ended up being saved and everything was fine.”

Since then, stranger abductions in the U.S. have fallen to nearly zero, and FIA’s partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization to deliver weather warnings. Additional collaborations continue to transpire across the globe.

Elert, who now serves on FIA’s board, is not surprised that other associations are keen to get involved with the nonprofit.

“You want to make a better world,” Elert said. “You want it better for your kids. I serve on a lot of boards for university, high school and mentor programs. If you can help one kid be better, that kid can impact 20 people.

“A would-be child abductor knows that the minute the alert goes out on this platform, everyone will be aware of it. It’s not just helping recover the child, it’s helping prevent something — whether that’s a child abduction or an unexpected storm from wreaking havoc. And that’s the biggest thing, trying to make a better world for everyone to live in.”

Written by Logan Malloy, copywriter at Conversant.

An AppNexus Developer Helps Launch Alerts to Canada

It’s safe to say George Zhao has a full plate, but he’s yet to bite off more than he can chew.

Zhao, a client insights analyst at AppNexus, is helping the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) push boundaries, save lives and expand reach while moonlighting as the lead developer of the AppNexus Alert Hub, an ad-tech system that helps FIA deliver geo-targeted warnings and alerts.

“Truthfully, because (FIA) is a passion project, it often bleeds into my evenings and weekends,” Zhao said. “But I’m happy to spend time doing something that, for me, feels meaningful.”

Zhao’s work continues to be instrumental in growing FIA’s scope. For the last several months, he’s worked on bringing real-time warnings and weather alerts to Canada, a project that went live in July.

“After the first phase of integrations that were mainly directed at the National Weather Service, Canada was the next obvious choice to integrate,” Zhao said.

Setting up the expansion into Canada, however, presented some unique challenges.

One issue Zhao needed to solve was how to map Canadian locations. In the United States, the National Weather Service operated on the FIPS code system, which identifies counties and county equivalents throughout the country.

In Canada, those don’t exist.

Instead, Canada uses its own set of codes (the SGC), for which reliable conversion into Canadian Postal Codes were not available. AppNexus targets on postal codes.

“We were a little stuck on that point until (FIA President) Jason Bier was gracious enough to have the FIA budget help us procure a mapping database from Statistics Canada that we could leverage to complete that task,” Zhao said.

“We’re now covering all of Canada for a whole bunch of different alerts, which is pretty great,” he said.

The lack of mapping codes may not be an issue moving forward thanks to another addition to the platform. Zhao added the ability to target geo-fenced areas by utilizing the latitude and longitude data passed on from the CAP alert. He was able to upgrade the geo-targeting system using some “very beta parts” of AppNexus’ core platform to enable this functionality.

While this feature is only available for mobile devices sending latitude and longitude data, it should make alerting much more accurate for these devices in the future.

Zhao is especially excited about this new capability. This allows FIA to target a very local geo-area when an emergency strikes.

“It’s been a fun couple of months,” Zhao said. “At the end of it, we’ve come out with a system and made some tweaks to make it even more extensible in the future.

“I’ve always been interested in doing something meaningful that felt tangible with technology and this was the perfect opportunity. So when I had the spare bandwidth and time, I could dedicate myself to it.”

Zhao credited his managers and colleagues at AppNexus for allowing him to be flexible during work hours, enabling big launches such as the Canada project.

“Our managers and staff around the company have been super supportive with helping me allocate time to pursue this,” Zhao said. “AppNexus as a whole, and I’m not just saying this as a corporate push, we do have a genuine drive to really do these kind of projects we see good in.”

Best in Technology

We were fortunate to be awarded “Best in Technology” at the first annual Shorty Social Good Awards last week in New York City.  It is a proud moment for myself and the FIA team, and we sincerely thank the Shorty Awards for recognizing our efforts to save lives and promote the alerts for use by communities to save lives in new and innovative ways.

As a nonprofit, volunteer organization, our purpose is to help provide local communities and innovators with access to free data that can help people during imminent threats such as child abductions and natural disasters.  We are satisfying a much-needed void as we seek out and provide ways to offer “nonprofit tech” into its future.  There are more than a dozen public and private Partners and Supporting Authorities providing FIA with technology grants and tech to help fulfill our mission.

I am thrilled to see us expand our capabilities at the AWS re:Invent Hackathon on November 28th, 2016.  AWS has been an important partner as we move this mission forward, and the cloud is bringing effective infrastructure to our abilities.  I’m looking forward to working with the hackathon volunteers and judges to create new innovations by leveraging the FIA Alert Hub.

I couldn’t be more excited about the direction of FIA and the opportunities that lie ahead as we expand our relationships to organizations that see the benefit of collaborating to save lives globally.

Written by Mickey Schwab, FIA’s Chief Technology Officer

The Creative Data Integration Lions Shortlist

Chicago, Illinois (June 22, 2016), The Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) is pleased to announce that its efforts underway for “Around The World in 200 Milliseconds” made the Creative Data Integration shortlist. The Innovation Lions celebrate pioneering technological creativity. This is FIA’s second shortlist at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in 2016.

FIA is demonstrating the relationship between a big idea and radical tech; that is, a bespoke solution that fulfills an unaddressed need and delivers a product and service in a newly-invented way using adtech. FIA’s Hub is a free cloud service that provides robust scalability, availability, performance and reliability to alerting authorities and their local communities. The Hub supports the pulling and immediate pushing of alerts from the Hub to those who are in need of critical and life-saving information.

FIA will be presenting the Hub to the Cannes Lions Jury on Sunday, June 19th, in Cannes. Innovation Lion winners will be announced on Wednesday, June 23rd, as part of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.  To view the full Media Lions shortlist visit: http://www.canneslionsarchive.com/winners/entries/lions-innovation/creative-data/

For more information about FIA, visit internetalerts.org, follow @FIA_Alerts on Twitter or like FIA on Facebook.

The Innovative Technology Lions Shortlist

Chicago, Illinois (June 14, 2016), The Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) today announced that its efforts underway for “Around The World in 200 Milliseconds” made the Innovative Technology Lions shortlist. The Innovation Lions celebrate pioneering technological creativity.

FIA is demonstrating the relationship between a big idea and radical tech; that is, a bespoke solution that fulfills an unaddressed need and delivers a product and service in a newly-invented way using adtech. FIA’s Hub is a free cloud service that provides robust scalability, availability, performance and reliability to alerting authorities and their local communities. The Hub supports the pulling and immediate pushing of alerts from the Hub to those who are in need of critical and life-saving information.

FIA will be presenting the Hub to the Cannes Lions Jury on Sunday, June 19th, in Cannes. Innovation Lion winners will be announced on Wednesday, June 23rd, as part of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.  To view the full Media Lions shortlist visit: https://www.canneslions.com/lions_innovation/shortlist/

For more information about FIA, visit internetalerts.org, follow @FIA_Alerts on Twitter or like FIA on Facebook.

GroupM’s Rachel Glasser on Using Data and Digital Targeting for Good

When it comes to advertising, it’s important to act responsibly. Whether it’s making only accurate product claims, collecting and using data responsibly, or respecting consumer choices, the industry has an imperative to make a positive impact on society at the same time it drives business.

Too often advertising gets a bad rap, but the amount of good it stimulates for companies that employ workers whom are also consumers — and to economies — cannot be over-stated.  Advertising is also often used to directly support charitable organizations and government entities for the specific purpose of helping the public.  

The Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) is a shining example. Since 1996, the use of radio, Internet and wireless SMS technology on behalf of the emergency alert system has proven successful in informing the public of severe weather conditions and other emergencies like child abductions or threats of terrorism. Smartphone users are now accustomed to seeing these notifications, typically accompanied by a vibration or sound, depending on phone settings. The importance of these alerts is self-evident, but evolving technologies and consumer behaviors have required innovations to ensure the emergency alert system is as state of the art as commercial communications practices.

In 2013, the FIA was created through an initiative by GroupM and Conversant, with cooperation from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).  Many other companies, networks and exchanges soon embraced the opportunity to support the program. The idea was to use ad targeting and data for good. The FIA brings geo-targeted advertising technology to real-time emergency communications. In emergencies, it facilitates real-time AMBER alerts and severe weather alerts in place of online and mobile advertising.

Together, the group developed a way to expand the reach and maximize the effectiveness of emergency alerts on various types of mobile devices — phones or tablets — as well as desktop computers. The FIA system uses a method different from the traditional emergency outreach systems in order to alert users of danger. This coalition from the online environment works together to send out weather warnings and missing children notifications through a central hub, which draws in the alert data through several publicly available feeds from law enforcement agencies. The FIA has worked to continuously to ensure maximum reach, extending its online distribution of life-critical alerts to help authorities reach people in the impacted area through improved availability and use of Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) for imminent threat alerts all over the world.

So far, the FIA has served over 800 million AMBER alert impressions since 2011 and more than 10 million tornado warnings since 2012. Incredibly, these alerts have also helped rescue 794 abducted children.

On May 16 the FIA gained significant industry acknowledgment by winning an esteemed Webby Award for the second year in a row. “I have never felt more positive about the direction of FIA, and for this nonprofit organization’s ability to deliver cutting edge, ad technology driven services to save lives globally,” said Jason Bier, President of FIA, when he received the award.

GroupM is extremely proud to have spearheaded this program. This organization is a shining example of how the ad industry is able to apply technology, beyond offering messages about goods and services, to support the public good with live-saving messaging. Not only does this demonstrate the power of innovation and the many applications a specific technology can have, but also the commitment of those in the industry to do good. The FIA continues to be a communal effort and is constantly encouraging new partners to join to continue to use their powerful voice and advertising technology to save lives.

As appeared on MediaVillage.com

Written by Rachel Glasser, Director of Privacy at GroupM

Reaching People With A Life Saving Message

For twenty years, January 13th has marked AMBER Alert Awareness Day, a somber day of remembrance of the abduction and murder of 9 year old Amber Hagerman.  Since then, the use of Internet technology—specifically from ad technology innovations—has lead a revolution in ways alerts are delivered to warn of severe weather and prevent child predators from doing the unthinkable.

The Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) is one such organization unifying the ad industry to save lives with real-time alerts, such as AMBER Alerts, in the digital space.  And with partners like GroupM, AOL, Rocketfuel, xAd, AppNexus, Conversant and more lending their expertise, resources and inventory, FIA has made a tremendous impact.

FIA has served 800-plus million AMBER Alert impressions since 2011 and 10-plus million tornado warnings since 2012. But most importantly, the ability to issue alerts has helped rescue 794 abducted children and return them to their families.

We’re only scratching the surface of what we can achieve together if more companies join us to focus on how the progress in our industry can be repurposed to help alert the public.  Just as technology advancement and device proliferation have altered the ways in which we can engage consumers, so too can our innovations in ad tech offer new and significant ways to enhance how we reach the public during times of imminent crisis.

One such example is FIA’s use of donated cloud technology from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help fuel FIA’s Global Free Alert Hub. The Hub leverages AWS’s cloud technology and the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), an official alerting schema that brings alerting authorities’ capabilities into the Digital Age, to allow the Internet of Everything to receive imminent threat notifications quickly and promulgate them securely to devices with alerting capabilities or artificial intelligence.

Similarly, commercial technologies that allow us to reach individuals with dynamic creative are highly effective at reaching people when it’s needed most. And the metrics and insights we gather and meticulously scrutinize with advertisers can also help identify those channels that have the greatest impact when issuing alerts.

The application of learnings swings both ways.

FIA’s work is greatly expanding ways to creatively reach citizens who are not consuming mass media via traditional methods of TV or radio. For example, China’s Public Weather Service Center is supporting FIA’s approach to better support ways by which it can reach China’s mobile culture to alert millions of people when they are not at home.

As the Internet further enables organizations to compete and create efficiencies in the everyday lives of consumers, FIA offers a non-competitive place that gives companies, NGOs, non-profits and alerting authorities a way to come together for the purpose of leveraging these efficiencies when critical alerts need to be delivered.

Reaching the right people at the right place and time with the right granular message isn’t a practice we should limit to selling goods and services. The more organizations that rally to the cause—to add media display inventory or technology support—the faster we’ll be able to move forward to use the Internet to save lives in local communities around the world.

As appeared in Mediapost

Contributed by Jason Bier, Chief Privacy Officer at Conversant and Lead Representative of the Federation for Internet Alerts

FIA Presents at the Mobile Marketing Association Summit

On September 28th, FIA participated in the 2015 Mobile Marketing Association SM2 Innovation Summit in New York. Held annually, the MMA summit brings together mobile marketers to discuss the latest trends and accomplishments within the industry. Presenting alongside one of our mobile partners, xAd, and a representative from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, FIA was showcased in front of a packed audience. Our session was a fantastic opportunity to show the incredible power of our technology and its use for social good.

Before we took the stage, Carly Rae Jepsen did a quick 15-minute set, including her hit song Call Me Maybe. This was a great opening act to our presentation titled The Power of Place When It Matters Most. With the crowded amped from Jepsen’s performance, Monica Ho, Director of Marketing & Infrastructure at xAd, took the stage and began by talking about the developments and changes that have occurred in mobile technology. Some of these statistics have seen astronomical growth in the past few years – for example, today the average person checks their phone 221x each day, about once every 4.3 minutes! Monica’s discussion about the growth of mobile marketing was a great foundation for the rest of the presentation.

After learning about the mobile industry’s developments, Bob Hoever, Director at NCMEC, spoke about the history of the AMBER Alert program. For many in the room, this was their first time hearing about how this program began. They were impressed to see the advances in alerting procedures as tech innovations became more mainstream. Bob ended his presentation by discussing many of the procedures in place today, including the work that FIA is doing within the emergency alerting space.

At this point, I was able to give the history of the FIA program, including the background of our partnership with NCMEC and the National Weather Service, as well as provide some enlightening statistics about the growth of our program since its inception. Attendees were particularly interested in the technology, including the alerting methods that we have in place as well as the innovations of the FIA Push Hub and the FIA Global Alert Hub.

With so many technology trailblazers in the room, we thought it would be a good idea to brainstorm solutions to a new problem. Bob shared his experiences with alerts for individuals with autism – as these do not qualify as AMBER Alerts, there is a different emergency alerting protocol. Children with autism are prone to wander, and many of these lost children are drawn to bodies of water and drown. We broke the session into different groups to discuss other alerting procedures and were impressed with the variety of different ideas. From wearable tracking devices to alerting apps to beacons, each group presented a plethora of interesting and new ideas to be considered when moving forward.

Participating at this year’s Mobile Marketing Association summit was a fantastic experience for FIA. We were thrilled to be able to share our story and participate in the next chapters of emergency alerting discussions. We are very much looking forward to another collaborative session between xAd and NCMEC in the future!

Contributed by Jacob Goldstein, Associate Director, FIA.

Citizen AOL Partners With FIA for Distributing Critical Alerts Across AOL


Making a difference is in our DNA.

AOL plays a powerful role in bringing communities together, raising awareness & educating individuals through our content, distribution and platforms. AOL is the only major publisher to donate space on our homepage every day to organizations that are changing lives, improving outcomes and helping people around the world reach their potential.

As part of AOL’s commitment to addressing the world’s biggest challenges, we are proud to partner with the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) whose sole mission is to distribute life-saving information in real time. This partnership is a part of AOL’s emergency action effort, CARES (Citizen AOL Responds to Emergency Situations).

As part of this partnership, AOL is reserving premium inventory across our platform to support FIA and push out their amber alerts across desktop, mobile and video. For such an important and sensitive campaign, FIA not only needed a high quality set of inventory with an engaged audience to trust its brand with, but a technology partner guaranteed to maintain that controlled, brand safe- and viewable- environment. We created a private marketplace with Conversant using AOL’s MARKETPLACE by ADTECH, giving access to AOL’s most premium inventory, in recognition of our devotion to this cause. Last quarter alone, over 6 million impressions were served on behalf of FIA.

To date, AOL has donated more than 75 billion impressions valuing over $143 million to over 500 nonprofits that our teams, advertisers and consumers care about. We will continue to do what we can through our pro bono Public Service Announcement (PSA) program, which FIA is leveraging to send out critical and life-saving amber alerts.

For more information on AOL’s citizenship efforts, follow us on Twitter at @AOLCSR.

Reposted from Aol Advertising

FIA Free Alert Hub

We are pleased to announce the official launch of FIA’s Alert Hub, a free cloud service that provides robust scalability, availability, performance and reliability to the alerting community. The FIA Free Alert Hub (Hub) supports the pulling and immediate pushing of alerts from the Hub to those who are in need of critical and life-saving information.

Why did FIA develop this Hub? Accessing alerts quickly and easily was a challenge due to the lack of standard formats, closed alert networks, and decentralized access to CAP on the Internet. Realizing the power of the Internet and innovations in ad technology, we designed this completely open and free Hub that utilizes the newest form of standardized alerting schema: CAP.

While this service doesn’t replace existing alerting systems or technology, the goal is to accelerate the evolution of CAP. We expect the Hub to spur innovations that will help the Internet of Things (“IoT”) to utilize alerting for serious and imminent threats. The Hub was designed to encourage local ideas and community solutions across societies around the world. Finally, in an effort to help predictive analytics in natural disasters, we’ll store all CAP alerts in the cloud for fundamental research purposes at no cost.

The Hub will provide equal access to everyone. And as we continue to garner support from local alerting authorities and other organizations that are in a position to help, we’d like to thank our existing alerting authorities and partners for their ongoing support. We look forward to a future where the Hub can play a small role in leveraging the Internet’s strength and agility to help save lives and protect property – all around the globe.

Contributed by Jason Bier, Chief Privacy Officer at Conversant and Lead Representative of the Federation for Internet Alerts