Saving Private Data?

Facebook and Google are maneuvering while marketers mull very different data approaches

In a sign of the times, money is pouring into privacy while the Feds are going after anybody who seems to be infringing on it — requiring an even more substantial effort from walled gardens to look like they are playing nice. Let‘s get into this week‘s news.

Surf‘s Up

A flood of venture capital money isn‘t always the best barometer on which way the wind is blowing in media, but in this case, the ongoing investment in privacy-first data technology seems to be a fairly prescient read of the tea leaves. Case in point, data collaboration platform InfoSum — which only became active in 2019 and had been valued at $300 million — just raised another $65 million. That‘s on top of a 2020 funding round, according to The Wall Street Journal.

What does this tell us about how investors view the data-driven ad world? Well, InfoSum‘s entire premise is that data is too valuable and too vulnerable to move around willy-nilly the way it has during the past two decades of digital media.

“This is a sea change in how companies are thinking about relationships with customers and the way they use data,” InfoSum CEO Brian Lesser told WSJ. Lesser — who once ran the trading desk Xaxis, where all sorts of customer data was shared freely — continued, “Governments will continue to take an interest in this. I do think this wave is building and ultimately will crest.”

There‘s little doubt that the wave is coming. What‘s unknown is whether InfoSum‘s model/philosophy is the right one. The premise that data should stay put would seem to be very much contrary to the philosophy behind UID 2.0.

Very Private Sandbox

Google has been criticized, praised and greeted warily for its efforts to work with the industry to develop an alternative to employing cookies for ad targeting during the past year-plus. Some in the industry wonder if the company‘s devotion to helping publishers is all for show. Well, it turns out that the company has been privately meeting with a group of digital media companies during the process, Digiday reported. Google and the group (which includes CafeMedia) have been very hush-hush about these meetings since nobody wants to make smaller publishers feel left out — or scream “conspiracy.” The pubs that have been involved say they are feeling heard, especially compared to the opaque, clubby W3C. Still, if there‘s a complaint, it‘s that the engineers who made decisions about the technicalities of FLoC and Sandbox aren‘t part of these discussions and aren‘t always communicative.

Another Game of Monopoly?

Earlier this year, the FTC went after Facebook and the case was thrown out. Now, under newly appointed (and scary to Big Tech) commissioner Linda Khan, the FTC has a newly refined antitrust complaint against what it says are Facebook‘s monopolistic practices.

This new version provides a narrower definition of which companies Facebook actually competes with (not TikTok, Reddit or Twitter, for instance) and tries to home in on why Facebook‘s dominance in digital time spent — bolstered by its massive acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp — allows it to command an outsized portion of ad budgets while stifling competition, reports The Verge. It even goes as far as saying that Facebook is so powerful that it can screw up and it doesn‘t matter. “Facebook‘s ability to harm users by decreasing product quality, without losing significant user engagement, indicates that Facebook has market power.”

It‘s never going to be easy to make the case that a free app that consumers seem to use because they enjoy it is harmful to the market. However, the argument that Facebook‘s sheer network effect — its strength is pushing users back and forth between apps while collecting data all the way — makes it as close to a must-buy as there has ever been in media.

That‘s it for this week…enjoy the last bits of summer!