Our Own Phantom Menace?

Google gets to experience the Facebook feeling of having its dirty data laundry aired, Facebook has an identity crisis of sorts, and Amazon is the latest to try to and get clean. 

Let’s get into the week that was.

While we’ve all been fixated on the drama of the never-ending drip of the Facebook Papers, the Google Unredacted Case has been somewhat overlooked. Sure, the Facebook leaks have huge implications for Earth, society, and social media at large, but the Google revelations have a far more direct impact on digital advertising. As in — “man, this is worse than we imagined”— bad. According to that lawsuit brought by multiple state attorney generals, Google takes 22 to 42 percent of U.S. ad spending that touches its ad tech systems, like its exchange, AdX. Advertisers often complain about paying so called “ad tech taxes” but these numbers seem closer to a shakedown.

In addition, reports cite former Google executives claiming the company actually tried to “Jedi Mind Trick” publishers into not using header bidding, by implying it would strain a publisher’s servers, the suit says. This is diabolical stuff, if true.

There is a lot yet to unfold here, but the top questions have to be: Will this change how ad tech operates? Are we likely to see more transparency? And naturally, will this stuff become ammo that will be used in part of a much larger Federal Case Against Google?

You could imagine, for example, Google being forced to cordon off or sell all of its ad tech (which would hurt a little). You could certainly envision big fines. And maybe this all leads to better, more equitable transaction practices in the ad exchange universe.

The tough part of this to swallow, assuming these accusations are all true, is that it’s conceivable Google was choking off profits for both publishers and ad tech startups — and that some startups never even happened because of the unfair marketplace dynamics. Again, there is still so much to prove here, this is an ongoing lawsuit, but the allegations are rather dispiriting.

As was this take from Digiday: Ad execs dismayed, but not surprised, by tactics Google allegedly used to control digital ad dollars

Totally Meta

Of course, we couldn’t have a week without another Facebook bombshell, and this time, it’s a complete renaming: henceforth Facebook’s parent company is Meta.

The thing is, the blue Facebook app is still going to be the blue Facebook app. And you’re unlikely to get most people to start referring to Facebook as anything else after 17 years of branding. This isn’t Cingular Wireless, which came and went and no one cared as long as their phone still worked (we’ll save you the search — it returned to  its AT&T brand name).

Additionally, this is really putting the brand before the horse. Where is Facebook’s metaverse? You sort of have to build it for it to be real, right?

One Zuck hint towards the future is how it’s weird to use different identifiers to log into different parts of his own ecosystem (like VR).  “On a more functional and technical basis, I think that there was just a lot of confusion and awkwardness about having the company brand be also the brand of one of the social media apps,” he told The Verge. “When people wanted to sign into their Quest, we wanted them to sign in with their Facebook account because we wanted to have a single identity or account system for the company. Google has that, Apple has that. Microsoft has it. But for us, the issue is that if you’re signing into Quest or WhatsApp or Instagram with a Facebook account, I think that there was a confusion about, “Am I signing into this with my Facebook corporate account or is this going to be tied to my social media account?”

While that implies that they’ll be less tethered going forward, could it impact Facebook’s ID power, and diminish its ability to use first-party data? “Today’s announcement does not affect how we use or share data,” said Zuckerberg. Womp Womp.

Indeed, the company’s track record would seem to indicate that nothing is going to change much privacy-wise. As Digiday reported, Facebook sucks up loads of data, even after people quit. Le sigh.

Cleaning Up

In other tech giant news, AdExchanger reports that Amazon has unveiled its new Clean Room product, on the heels of big advances in this field from the likes of Snowflake, InfoSum, and newcomer Habu. Given Amazon’s prowess in cloud technology, this move seems to make sense. Yet isn’t the very idea behind a platform where you can mix and match data in a totally neutral, non-compromised space kind of in opposition to one of the big data providers owning the thing? This reminds us why it’s been challenging for Google and even AOL trying to act as media sellers, media owners and marketing cloud leaders — the more sides you play, the more conflicts your partners have to keep their eyes on.

Keeping Things in Context

If you want to get a good, hopeful sense of what life may be like after the cookie, take a listen to DotDash CEO Neil Vogel talking with Recode’s Peter Kafka about the motivation to acquire Meredith. If there is a sign that the future of ad targeting is about context, intent and first-party data, it’s the way this deal was valued and shaped. Check out the conversation.

That’s all for now. See you in a week.

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