All Eyes on DC
The industry was focused on Congress this past week, as scrutiny on Big Tech continues to escalate.
Let’s get started.
The enemy of the enemy is my friend
Facebook dominated another week in the news — again, not for good reasons. It started on 60 Minutes, when the now-famous whistleblower Frances Haugen gave a candid interview alleging that Facebook’s leadership downplays its own research showing how bad it is for society. In particular, Haugen called out Facebook for knowingly ramping up the anger by favoring posts that spark outrage — something that CEO Mark Zuckerberg forcefully denied.
No, this nasty back and forth did not suddenly cause Facebook to lose millions of users or advertisers. Only a prolonged outage could achieve that — which actually happened on Monday! Those few hours were a double-edged sword, as it made many appreciate how much they benefited from Facebook, and reinforced how much their businesses or lives revolve around its family of apps.
But in terms of lawmakers, things got really interesting when Haugen appeared before Congress and shifted the conversation. It’s not just that Facebook lets bad people say bad things — and therefore must be stopped — it’s that Facebook’s algorithms are out of control, and warrant some kind of regulation, she argued. If that could shift the focus among lawmakers — a big if, because it’s rather abstract — there could be larger ramifications for the ad community. What happens to the way content and ads reach people if big algorithms are somehow reigned in (by showing posts chronologically, say, instead of based on what you’d likely to engage with) as part of new regulations?
A year ago, when Trump was still in office, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Google. This past week, Jonathan Kanter, President Biden’s pick to lead that suit and all of the DOJ’s antitrust issues, appeared before Congress for a confirmation hearing. Kanter was pressed on whether companies like Google and Facebook can still violate antitrust laws — even though their products are free.
From AdExchamger: Antitrust laws “have to address market realities and market realities have shifted in dramatic ways” over just the last 20 to 30 years, Kanter said. This, in turn, has changed the types of harms that can be inflicted on society as a result of the concentrations of power.
“Those harms can embody privacy, can involve the marketplace of ideas, the distribution of information and political discourse,” Kanter said. “To be effective, the antitrust laws, in my view, should be enforced in a manner that adapts to those market realities.”
Uh, we’re not lawyers, but that sounds bad for Google.
I’m App Lovin it
Speaking of lawyers, it sounds like someone advised Twitter that the company may no longer want to be part of anything involving consumer identity data on apps it doesn’t own or control.
The company agreed to sell MoPub, an SSP for in-app ads, to AppLovin for a cool billion. Despite being a solid moneymaker, Ad Age reports that MoPub wasn’t exactly core to Twitter’s business, and was generating occasional problems:
“MoPub was already causing headaches for Twitter for privacy breaches, according to Zach Edwards, a researcher and privacy advocate at Victory Medium, an independent data auditing startup. “MoPub has been a significant source of sensitive user data to countless advertising companies across the world, and the product continues to be an active source of data that can be used to track,” Edwards said.
In 2020, MoPub was named in a data investigation into Grindr, the gay dating app, which used Twitter’s ad network to serve ads.”
Generally speaking, most big digital ad companies would like to find ways to avoid being associated with any sort of consumer data investigation.
Ok, well that’s enough. Hopefully, we can get back to more nerdy ad tech talk and fewer run-ins with DC and prosecutors soon. See you next time.