Issue #8 : Late Feb

Issue #8 : Late Feb
Independent news for web publishers

Welcome to another issue of Powered by Ads - Independent news for web publishers every 2 weeks. If you are reading this anywhere other than in your inbox remember to also sign up for free at so that you never miss an issue.

My main goal for Issue #8 is for Powered by Ads to be the only newsletter on the planet not to mention a certain 5-letter word quiz that recently got acquired*  - whilst bringing you up to date with essential publisher news from the last two weeks, of course. It's another long one so please just scroll down and read the bits that interest you. I won't be offended

(*Estimated 50m monthly visits and no ads?? )

In this issue...

  • Ad consent solutions might be illegal in Europe
  • TCF ruling may benefit Google
  • Reader's question: Should I just delete my ad consent script?
  • Another reader's question: First party data
  • GDPR hit small/medium businesses hardest
  • Ad Blocking Survey - take two
  • Vulnerabilities found in popular publisher plugins for Wordpress
  • France agrees with Austria: Google Analytics has a privacy problem.
  • Facebook numbers fall for the first time
  • Google launches "Related Search for Content"
  • Google will not retire Cookies until CMA concerns have been addressed
  • The Publishing Show: London - March 8th & 9th
  • Wrapping up

This story broke just as I was hitting the publish button in Issue#7, so risks being old news now (2 weeks is "old news"... you have to love this industry). It's a big story though, so still warrants inclusion.

It turns out that those annoying ad pop-ups we have all been forced to use may well be illegal. The Belgium data protection authority has, as previously warned, ruled against the IABs use of the Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF). TCF is the system behind most ad consent pop-ups introduced to satisfy the needs of GDPR. It turns out they don't (according to Belgium, at least).

The IAB now has a $280,000 fine and 6 months to satisfy the Belgium DPAs judgement in the case. If it can't do that then TCF could be ruled illegal across the EU and all data collected through it deleted. More here.

TCF ruling may benefit Google

If TCF is ruleds illegal, Google may well come up smelling of roses once again. Just as GDPR ended up favouring Google,  this ruling could follow suit. If TCF is ruled against the the last Real Time Bidding protocol for consent left standing would Google's own AdBuyers protocol. More from AdExchanger.

Variations of this question have come up a few times since the ruling, so I'll paraphrase:

If my cookie pop-up is probably going to be ruled illegal anyway, shall I just delete it?

Tempting isn't it? They're annoying and now it seems not fit for purpose. We shouldn't be deleting them just yet though. Whether or not they meet the legal needs of everyone in the bid chain, they are supporting higher bids. Many buyers will simply not bid if there is no consent string, so removing the consent pop-up will reduce revenue. Hang tight. Change is coming.

Have a burning question you would like to see answered here? Click here to add yours. If I can't answer it, I'll try to find someone who can.

Another reader's question: First party data

Off the back of all the discussions around first party data, I also received this question this month:

How should publishers gather first party data ahead of the Chrome cookie deprication?  
- John K

It's still far from clear when Chrome will actually deprecate first party cookies as doing so risks being anti-competitive. It does seem wise to start building data now though.

The challenge is that no-one really knows what advertises will be looking for when third party cookies are eventually retired. There are lots of people pushing their identity solutions, but not much consensus on which of those are going to survive the scrutiny of privacy watchdogs and gain traction.

Logins/memberships are the safest starting point. Driving registrations and sign-ins is one of the strategies most likely to pay dividends. (did I mention that you can register to receive this newsletter by email here?). For large publishers, being able to add additional datapoints to those user records is also likely to be valuable. Having unique user records with unique targetable data associated with them will drive the value of direct and programmatic deals.

That becomes harder for smaller publishers who are not landing those deals directly. That market may develop as cookies become rarer and the demand for targeting increases. I'd expect to see more activity on PMPs within Open Deals for example. Not everyone has access to that though. The next step for many right now is to implement an identity hub (either working directly or through their ad partners). These will tie those known users to the various identity platforms that advertisers use for targeting. Results from these are still fairly moderate in most cases, but they do usually provide a small lift. More importantly it's step forward on this difficult road.

I know lots of solution providers are reading PoweredByAds. I am being asked this question a lot. If you have a solution that would help publishers please let me know. There could be a big fat free plug to a very interested audience.

GDPR hit small/medium businesses hardest

By way of underlining the point of who wins and loses in the privacy wars, the Canadian Marketing Association just issued a report into the impact of GDPR on different sized businesses. Smaller organizations, it says, have been unable to compete with larger companies, which can dedicate significant resources to effectively implementing GDPR: “In the online advertising world, businesses have opted to advertise or partner with larger technology firms as they have the means to fulfil the regulatory requirements of the GDPR more effectively. More from The Drum

Ad Blocking Survey - take two

Well, this is embarrassing. Last issue I asked you to take part in a two-question survey about how you tackle ad blocking. As several dozen eagle-eyed readers pointed out: the link didn't work.

Let's try again! Please click below and take 5 seconds to answer an anonymous poll on whether and how you currently tackle ad blocking. If I haven't messed it up this time I'll share the results next month.

Click to answer

There have been a host of vulnerabilities reported in WordPress plugins of late. Of particular concern to publishers will be those found in the AdInserter/AdInserter Pro plugins. AdInserter is one of the most popular (and capable) Ad Management plugins for WordPress, but it is one of several high profile plugins that have had problem publicised this month.

Rather than being a WordPress core issue, the recent problems have all stemmed from WordPress being a platform that can be extended by third party developers. Given the number of themes and plugins in use, my advice to publishers tends to stay general:

  • Keep plugins, themes and core all updated
  • Turn on automatic updates if you can
  • Run a scan free scan with a service like WPSEC
  • Consider signing up for an automatic scanning plan with one of these services

These problems aren't exclusive to WordPress, but its such a huge platform that it gets attention. Vulnerabilities are hard to avoid in extendable systems so we have to expect them: Monitor for issues and fix quickly.

France agrees with Austria: Google Analytics has a privacy problem

The French data-protection authority echoes Austria's ruling that most Google Analytics implementations are illegal. This is because Analytics sends personal data (such as IP address) back to  US servers. The US is no longer considered to offer the same protection as the EU, so this is failing to protect the rights of EU users. Other EU countries likely to follow suit. Details here.

I suspect it will not be long before we return to a world where we are offered choices as to where data should reside when we set-up services like Google Analytics (or in fact almost anything that we embed in our sites).

I have been testing more privacy-centric alternatives to Google Analytics over the last few weeks, and I suspect that these solutions are set to gain market share too. Hit me up if this is something you'd like to learn more about.

Facebook numbers fall for the first time

Daily Active Users of Facebook have fallen for the first time in the platform's 18 year history. Meta, the newly rebranded owner of the platform also warned of slowing revenue growth in the face of competition from rivals such as TikTok and YouTube. Meta's share price slipped by 20% off the back of the news and Mark Zuckerberg's personal wealth dropped by almost $30 billion in a single. I'll be passing around a collection tin later if anyone is concerned. More on the story here from Auntie Beeb.

Google have launched a new AdSense feature that looks suspiciously like search units, but powered by AdSense for Search. The feature requires that publishers are onboarded for AdSense for Search, so will likely initially only be available to those working with AdSense account managers or who have Certified Partners manage their AdSense.  AdSense link units are dead... long live Related Search for Content.  Read the announcement from Google here.

New related Search for Content Feature

Google will not retire Cookies until CMA concerns have been addressed

UK's competition watchdog accepts Googles legally binding pledges around the post-cookie future. The CMA will be "keeping a close eye" to ensure that any changes promote competition, help to protect the ability of online publishers to raise money through advertising and safeguard users’ privacy.

Google have reaffirmed that cookies will not be removed until these concerns have been satisfied.  More

Other stories of interest that I have kept short:

  • TradeDesk cuts out the middle man with OpenPath, it's Open Bidding alternative. More
  • Publishers launch a new anti-trust complaint against Google. More
  • Google plans to curtail cross-app tracking on Android. More

The Publishing Show: London - March 8th & 9th

Any readers going? I'd love to meet up and say "Hi". Let me know:

Wrapping up

That's it for the late Feb issue. I'll be back with more updates in around 2 weeks.

If you found this issue interesting please leave a comment on LinkedIn, or share a link on your social media of choice: .