Hello again publishers and ad folk. It's time for another round up of all-things interesting and newsworthy in the ad publishing world from the last two weeks.
With the year still gathering momentum, it seems that the lawyers have been the first in the industry to get up to speed. With multiple key rulings and everyone suing everyone else, this issue feels more like a court roundup than the broader news I usually share. The good news is that I've been reading through it all so you don't have to. As ever you'll find brief summaries below with links to further reading for each story.
Missed an issue, or want to share with a friend? You can read every issue for free online at www.poweredbyads.com . It's even ad-free... controversial!
In this issue...
(just scroll down and read the bits that interest you)
- Austria thinks that pretty much everything publishers do is illegal
- Google accused of stealing from both publishers and advertisers
- German courts rule in favour of AdBlock Plus... again
- A $238 Million lesson in consent
- FTC given go-ahead to pursue the breakup of Meta
- Instagram testing new subscription offering for creators
- Reader's question: What is "Dark Social"?
- No dumb questions
- Wrapping up
Austria thinks that pretty much everything publishers do is illegal
This is a fun one. Austria's data protection authority have ruled that one website's use of Google Analytics is a breech of GDPR and they are looking at another 100 complaints of the same.
The case centres on the fact that when Google Analytics is added to a website personal information (such as the user's IP address) is transferred to the USA. Thanks to Edward Snowden, we know that US intelligence has access to that data should they want it. This mean that those protected by GDPR lose protection when data is transferred to the US; breaking a key concept of GDPR.
This ruling has the potential to have a far greater impact than it might first seem. Google Analytics is ubiquitous, but most publishers could live without it (Plausible & Matomo spring to mind as more privacy-centric alternatives). However, the ruling immediately calls into question the legality of every other US based solution we embed on our websites: Including Ad Networks and Servers.
Google accused of stealing from both publishers and advertisers
In the US it has been claimed that Google has been misleading publisher and advertisers for years and manipulating ad auctions for its benefit. The claims were initially made in a lawsuit filed in December 2020, but an unredacted filing was made last week which throws new light on the claims. There are two specifics that are likely to be of particular interest to publishers:
Firstly that through a process called "Reserve price optimisation", Google manipulated second price auctions to funnel funds away from publishers (charging advertisers for the second highest bid, whilst paying out based on the third placed bid). In short, it's alleged they told publishers that the impressions earned less than they did, then pocketed the difference. As one user on the Reddit adops channel put it "This, if true, is by far the worst thing I’ve seen in over 10 years in adtech."
Secondly that Facebook and Google colluded in price fixing to win a pre-agreed share of ad impressions each.
The Wall Street Journal has more about both claims and Google's denial of wrongdoing.
German courts rule in favour of AdBlock Plus... again
Life must be particularly sweet for the lawyers who represent German Publisher Axel Springer, and Eyeo, the makers of AdBlock Plus. The two companies have been battling in the German courts for close to eight years, with ruling after ruling going in the adblocker's favour. The latest continues that pattern. Axel Springer had claimed that by interfering with the website output, AdBlockers were infringing copyright. Although that feels like a logical stretch, it was based on a legal precedent from console gaming where cheat software modified code.
The case was dismissed by Hamburg District Court this week, setting an important precedent for determining who "owns" internet code. Axel Springer are expected to appeal. More on the case here.
A $238 Million lesson in consent
CNIL, the data protection authority of France, has fined Google and Facebook a combined $238 Million for making it difficult to decline cookies. The ruling indicates that "the fact that [users] cannot refuse the cookies as easily as they can accept them influences their choice in favour of consent". Considering that most Consent Management Platforms used by publishers nudge heavily towards acceptance, this could have wider impact, particularly if this interpretation is adopted by other authorities. Ad Exchanger have more on this story.
FTC given go-ahead to pursue the breakup of Meta
A Federal Judge in the US has refused to dismiss a second antitrust complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) against Meta. Meta, the newly rebranded parent company of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, had asked a court to dismiss an antitrust complaint brought by the FTC for a second time. However, Judge James Boasberg said on Tuesday that the FTC’s revised lawsuit should be allowed to proceed.
The FTC originally sued Facebook during the Trump administration, but the complaint was rejected by the court last June. The agency filed an amended complaint in August, adding more detail to the accusation that the social media company had crushed or bought rivals. Read more about this in The Guardian.
Instagram testing new subscription offering for creators
The tech world loves a subscription, and now social media creators are going to get a chance to try to model thanks to a new feature being trialled by Instagram. Participating creators can set monthly subscription prices ranging from $0.99 to $99.99 to access premium content on their stream. This is being seen my many as a response to rival TikTok, who have been taking market share through greater appeal to a younger audience. As reported last issue, TikTok have also recently expanded their monetisation options.
Those hoping to cash in no those sweet $99 monthly subscriptions for pictures of their breakfast will have to wait though. The new Instagram feature is desribed as being in "early Alpha" and currently being trailled with just 10 creators. More, including a list of those blessed 10, at TechCrunch.
Reader's question: What is "Dark Social"?
Every issue I ask readers if they have any questions they'd like to me to either answer, or find someone to answer. I had an interesting one come in this month, which I thought I would share.
"Can you explain 'Dark Social'? I keep hearing it mentioned, but Google gives conflicting explanations" - Anon
Good question and I understand there being some room for confusion around this as I have seen the term misused. In essence Dark Social refers to traffic that should logically be attributed to social media, but won't be attributed as such in our analytics. An example would be be reading an article on Twitter and sharing it with a colleague on Slack. Twitter drove that traffic, but your analytics will pick up no referral information so tags the traffic as "direct".
There are specialist solutions that attempt to improve attribution around Dark Social (getsocial.io is one I am aware of but not personally used). A more common and affordable strategy is to use URL shorteners like bit.ly that include campaign tracking variables.
No dumb questions
Have a question relating to Ads or Web Publishing and don't know who to ask? Ask it here without judgement. I'll pick out some interesting ones and either answer them myself or find someone who can.
That's it for this issue. I'll be back in another 2 weeks with more, so if anyone has a story they think should be included, or has feedback on anything I've coverd to date, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn here.