WhizzCo helps publishers maximize their content recommendation revenue

Israeli startup WhizzCo says it’s time for publishers to adopt the programmatic, auction-based approach when it comes to the ads in content recommendation widgets like Outbrain and Taboola.

After all, publishers regular employ this approach for most of their other digital ad units. But co-founder and CEO Alon Rosenthal said that when trying to monetize his own websites, he discovered for himself that it was “impossible” to maximize the revenue from those widgets in the same way.

“That was our real pain,” he said.

So with WhizzCo, Rosenthal and his team have built what they call a Content Recommendation Yield Platform, pulling native advertising from more than 40 different content recommendation providers, predicting which one will deliver the highest revenue for a given impression (whether that’s measured in CPM, CPC or CPA) and then delivering the ad from that provider.

Rosenthal added that WhizzCo works with publishers to ensure that the recommendation widgets and ads look like they’re a native part of a page, and that their appearance doesn’t change regardless of where the ad comes from. He also said the publishers implement WhizzCo’s JavaScript on “not in the header, but on the actual code of the site — by doing that, we eliminate any loading problems whatsoever.”

Although WhizzCo is coming out of stealth now, it was actually founded in 2017 and has already worked with a number of publishers, including Penske Media Corporation’s She Media. In a statement, She Media Senior Vice President of Operations Ryan Nathanson said, “WhizzCo’s platform allowed us to create a competitive ecosystem, which has enabled tighter customization, competition and editorial guideline control, yielding a 75% increase in content recommendation CPM.”

And Rosenthal said that on average, WhizzCo customers see a 37.7% lift in content recommendation revenue.

“Our motto is that no one delivers 100 percent performance, 100 percent of the time,” he said. “No matter who you are, even if you’re Google [or any of the other big ad companies,] you cannot perform best at all times. That’s where we come in with our technology.”

#advertising-tech, #startups

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Facebook tests topic targeting for in-stream video ads

Facebook is announcing some new capabilities for video advertisers on Facebook and Instagram, as well as new numbers about the potential audience that those ads might reach.

Numbers first: The company says that there are now 2 billion people each month who watch videos that eligible for in-stream ads. It also says that 70 percent of in-stream ads are watched to completion, with its studies showing that by adding a Facebook In-Stream campaign to ad purchases that already include News Feed and Stories, advertisers saw a median 1.5x increase in ad recall.

When discussing the news with Carolyn Everson, the vice president of Facebook’s global business group, I wondered whether traditional advertisers are comfortable with the company’s metrics. (Back in 2016, the company had to admit that due to an error, it had been inflating video view times, and is still facing criticism about how it handled the situation.)

Everson said Facebook is aiming to be “very specific” with its numbers. She also noted that the company only places in-stream ads in videos that are three minutes or longer, with the ad only playing after a viewer has watched at least 45 seconds (or more, depending on the video).

“I do believe that we are going to be very competitive and consistent with the marketplace,” she said. “Everyone measures these things a little bit differently, but these are numbers that people are going to be very excited about.”

Facebook Video Topics

Image Credits: Facebook

On the product side, the company is starting a global test of In-Stream Video Topics, which will allow advertisers to target their ads not just by audience, but also based on the topic of a given video. In a blog post, Facebook says the initial targeting will include “over 20 Video Topics, like Sports, and over 700 hundred sub-topics such as Baseball, Basketball, Golf, or Swimming.”

Everson said the company will use machine learning technology to classify eligible videos, as well as to ensure that they meet Facebook’s brand safety guidelines.

In addition, Facebook is announcing that it will start testing ads in its short-form Instagram Reels format, initially in India, Brazil, Germany and Australia. These ads can be up to 30 seconds long, and users can interact with them in the same ways they interact with organic Reels content (liking, sharing, skipping).

Facebook sticker ads

And Facebook is testing the sticker ads that it announced last month, which will allow brands to create custom stickers, which creators can then include in their Facebook Stories.

Looking at all the announcements together, Everson (who joined Facebook in 2011) said, “Frankly, for the last 10 years, I’ve been so excited for the moment where we are absolutely ready for prime time in our discussions of online video solutions for marketers. With our news that we are announcing today, we have more than arrived.”

#advertising-tech, #facebook, #space, #tc

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Ex.co acquires video adtech company Cedato

Ex.co is announcing its very first acquisition — it’s buying Cedato, a video monetization startup founded in 2015.

Previously known as Playbuzz, Ex.co is short for The Experience Company, and it provides publishers and other customers with an easy way to add interactive and visual elements (such as polls and product recommendations) to their content. The company says its publisher business grew revenue by 300% between 2018 and 2020.

According to co-founder and CEO Tom Pachys, over the past year, he’s become convinced that artificial intelligence is “taking over everything we do.”

“We started searching for companies that did video in a sophisticated way, meaning using [machine learning] as part of their core engines,” Pachys said. “When I say that, I mean things like choosing the right content, choosing the right ad, knowing how to manage an [ad] auction in the right way.”

He said Cedato stood out because it’s able to do all of this without affecting page load time, this will be increasingly important to Google’s Core Web Vitals measurements, and therefore to search rankings.

“It’s always a tradeoff between efficiencies and revenues in general,” Pachys said. “But for [Cedato], in a very surprising way, they can increase speed and increase revenues.”

By adding Cedato’s technology, Ex.co will be able to offer its customers things like predictive recommendations for video content, header bidding for video ads and improved support for connected TVs. Conversely, the company will continue to support existing Cedato customers while also offering them additional products.

“We’re not taking anything away, we’re just adding more solutions,” Pachys said.

The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but the entire Cedato team (based in New York and Israel) will be joining Ex.co.

“Since the company’s inception, Cedato has been laser-focused on creating the most advanced video tools with a simple, customer-first approach,” said Cedato founder and CEO Ron Dick in a statement. “Ex.co has a similar vision, powerful technology, and a large, loyal clientele base. Working together enables us to offer cutting-edge technology to our range of global partners, continuing to lead the way with product innovation that supports the market’s primary needs.”

Pachys added that Ex.co is looking to make another AI-related acquisitions, with the next one likely coming on the commerce side.

#advertising-tech, #cedato, #ex-co, #startups

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Catch&Release raises $14M to help marketers find and license content from across the web

Catch&Release founder and CEO Analisa Goodin told me that she wants to help brands break free from the limitations of stock photography — and that her startup has raised $14 million in Series A funding to achieve that goal.

Goodin explained that the company started out as an image research firm before becoming a product-focused, venture-backed startup in 2015. The Series A was led by Accel (with participation from Cervin Ventures and other existing investors), and it brings Catch&Release’s total funding to $26 million.

Stock media and video services are moving in this direction themselves, for example by introducing their own libraries of user-generated content. Goodin applauded this, and she said Catch&Release isn’t opposed to the use of stock photos — it integrates with these stock marketplaces. At the same time, she suggested that she has a much bigger vision.

“This isn’t just about UGC, this is about tapping into the creative potential of the internet,” she said.

After all, you can now find pretty much any kind of content you can imagine somewhere online, but “a lot of advertising agencies and brands have been trained that if a piece of content comes form internet, avoid it,” because it’s just “too hard” to figure out how to license it. (And indeed, that’s why I went with a stock photo for the lead image of this post.)

Catch&Release screenshot

Image Credits: Catch&Release

Catch&Release aims to make that process as simple as possible, first with a browser extension that allows marketers to save any media that they find on the web, anytime they think they might want to use in their own campaigns (this is the “catch” part of the process). It even presents a “licensability score,” which is a rating based on factors like the person who posted the content, the description and the comments, indicating how likely it is that a marketer will actually be able to license this content.

Then, when someone from a brand or advertising agency decides that they want to use a piece of content, they can send a licensing request with a push of a button (this is the “release”). Catch&Releases also analyzes the content for anything else that needs to be cleared or obscured, such as a company logo.

While we’ve written about other tools for licensing online content, Goodwin emphasized that Catch&Release isn’t just about finding photos for a social media campaign. Part of the goal, she said, is to erase the “stigma” around UGC, which now “represents the entire spectrum of culturally relevant content.”

For example, she showed me a Red Lobster commercial that looks like a normal TV ad, but was in fact assembled entirely from footage found online — something that’s been even more useful in the past year, with pandemic-related safety concerns around large shoots. (Catch&Release has also been used to license content for ads promoting TechCrunch’s parent company Verizon.)

Goodwin added that the new funding will allow Catch&Release to continue investing in product, engineering and marketing.

“No one has defined the commercial licensing layer for the web,” she said. “What’s got me really excited to build this product is being that layer for the internet, not just for photos and videos, but for writing, art, graphics, and building the commercial licensing engine of the web.”

#accel, #advertising-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #media, #startups, #stock-photography, #tc, #user-generated-content

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Facebook to test new business discovery features in U.S. News Feed

Facebook announced this morning it will begin testing a new experience for discovering businesses in its News Feed in the U.S. When live, users to tap on topics they’re interested in underneath posts and ads in their News Feed in order to explore related content from businesses. The change comes at a time when Facebook has been arguing how Apple’s App Tracking Transparency update will impact its small business customers — a claim many have dismissed as misleading, but nevertheless led some mom and pop shops to express concern about the impacts to their ad targeting capabilities, as a result. This new test is an example of how easily Facebook can tweak its News Feed to build out more data on its users, if needed.

The company suggests users may see the change under posts and ads from businesses selling beauty products, fitness or clothing, among other things.

The idea here is that Facebook would direct users to related businesses through a News Feed feature, when they take a specific action to discover related content. This, in turn, could help Facebook create a new set of data on its users, in terms of which users clicked to see more, and what sort of businesses they engaged with, among other things. Over time, it could turn this feature into an ad unit, if desired, where businesses could pay for higher placement.

“People already discover businesses while scrolling through News Feed, and this will make it easier to discover and consider new businesses they might not have found on their own,” the company noted in a brief announcement.

Facebook didn’t detail its further plans with the test, but said as it learned from how users interacted with the feature, it will expand the experience to more people and businesses.

Image Credits: Facebook

Along with news of the test, Facebook said it will roll out more tools for business owners this month, including the ability to create, publish and schedule Stories to both Facebook and Instagram; make changes and edits to Scheduled Posts; and soon, create and manage Facebook Photos and Albums from Facebook’s Business Suite. It will also soon add the ability to create and save Facebook and Instagram posts as drafts from the Business Suite mobile app.

Related to the businesses updates, Facebook updated features across ad products focused on connecting businesses with customer leads, including Lead Ads, Call Ads, and Click to Messenger Lead Generations.

Facebook earlier this year announced a new Facebook Page experience that gave businesses the ability to engage on the social network with their business profile for things like posting, commenting and liking, and access to their own, dedicated News Feed. And it had removed the Like button in favor of focusing on Followers.

It is not a coincidence that Facebook is touting its tools for small businesses at a time when there’s concern — much of it loudly shouted by Facebook itself — that its platform could be less useful to small business owners in the near future, when ad targeting capabilities becomes less precise as users vote ‘no’ when Facebook’s iOS app asks if it can track them.

#advertising-tech, #facebook, #mobile, #news-feed, #social, #social-media, #social-network, #social-software, #software, #targeted-advertising, #united-states

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Building customer-first relationships in a privacy-first world is critical

In business today, many believe that consumer privacy and business results are mutually exclusive — to excel in one area is to lack in the other. Consumer privacy is seen by many in the technology industry as an area to be managed.

But the truth is, the companies who champion privacy will be better positioned to win in all areas. This is especially true as the digital industry continues to undergo tectonic shifts in privacy — both in government regulation and browser updates.

By the end of 2022, all major browsers will have phased out third-party cookies — the tracking codes placed on a visitor’s computer generated by another website other than your own. Additionally, mobile device makers are limiting identifiers allowed on their devices and applications. Across industry verticals, the global enterprise ecosystem now faces a critical moment in which digital advertising will be forever changed.

Up until now, consumers have enjoyed a mostly free internet experience, but as publishers adjust to a cookie-less world, they could see more paywalls and less free content.

They may also see a decrease in the creation of new free apps, mobile gaming, and other ad-supported content unless businesses find new ways to authenticate users and maintain a value exchange of free content for personalized advertising.

When consumers authenticate themselves to brands and sites, they create revenue streams for publishers as well as the opportunity to receive discounts, first-looks, and other specially tailored experiences from brands.

To protect consumer data, companies need to architect internal systems around data custodianship versus acting from a sense of data entitlement. While this is a challenging and massive ongoing evolution, the benefits of starting now are enormous.

Putting privacy front and center creates a sustainable digital ecosystem that enables better advertising and drives business results. There are four steps to consider when building for tomorrow’s privacy-centric world:

Transparency is key

As we collectively look to redesign how companies interact with and think about consumers, we should first recognize that putting people first means putting transparency first. When people trust a brand or publishers’ intentions, they are more willing to share their data and identity.

This process, where consumers authenticate themselves — or actively share their phone number, email or other form of identity — in exchange for free content or another form of value, allows brands and publishers to get closer to them.

#advertising-tech, #column, #consumer-privacy, #digital-advertising, #ec-column, #ec-marketing-tech, #identity-management, #marketing, #media, #online-advertising, #operating-system, #privacy, #targeted-advertising

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Quiq acquires Snaps to create a combined customer messaging platform

At first glance, Quiq and Snaps might sound like similar startups — they both help businesses talk to their customers via text messaging and other messaging apps. But Snaps CEO Christian Brucculeri said “there’s almost no overlap in what we do” and that the companies are “almost complete complements.”

That’s why Quiq (based in Bozeman, Montana) is acquiring Snaps (based in New York). The entire Snaps team is joining Quiq, with Brucculeri becoming senior vice president of sales and customer success for the combined organization.

Quiq CEO Mike Myer echoed Bruccleri’s point, comparing the situation to dumping two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the floor and discovering “the two pieces fit perfectly.” More specifically, he told me that Quiq has generally focused on customer service messaging, with a “do it yourself, toolset approach.” After all, the company was founded by two technical co-founders, and Myer joked, “We can’t understand why [a customer] can’t just call an API.”

Snaps, meanwhile, has focused more on marketing conversations, and on a managed service approach where it handles all of the technical work for its customers. In addition, Myer said that while Quiq has “really focused on platform aspect from beginning” — building integrations with more than a dozen messaging channels including Apple Business Chat, Google’s Business Messages, Instagram, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp — it doesn’t have “a deep natural language or conversational AI capability” the way Snaps does.

Myer added that demand for Quiq’s offering has been growing dramatically, with revenue up 300% year-over-year in the last six months of 2020. At the same time, he suggested that the divisions between marketing and customer service are beginning to dissolve, with service teams increasingly given sales goals, and “at younger, more commerce-focused organizations, they don’t have this differentiation between marketing and customer service” at all.

Apparently the two companies were already working together to create a combined offering for direct messaging on Instagram, which prompted broader discussions about how to bring the two products together. Moving forward, they will offer a combined platform for a variety of customers under the Quiq brand. (Quiq’s customers include Overstock.com, West Elm, Men’s Wearhouse and Brinks Home Security, while Snaps’ane Bryant, Live Nation, General Assembly, Clairol and Nioxin.) Brucculeri said this will give businesses one product to manage their conversations across “the full customer journey.”

“The key term you’re hearing is conversation,” Myer added. “It’s not about a ticket or a case or a question […] it’s an ongoing conversation.”

Snaps had raised $11.3 million in total funding from investors including Signal Peak Ventures. The financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

#advertising-tech, #enterprise, #fundings-exits, #mobile, #mobile-messaging, #quiq, #snaps, #startups

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Apple shares more details about its imminent App Tracking Transparency feature

Apple is sharing more details today about its upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, which will allow users to control, on an app-by-app level, whether their data is shared for ad-targeting purposes.

In a sense, anyone using the current version of iOS can see App Tracking Transparency in action, since iOS already includes a Tracking menu in the Privacy settings, and some apps have already started asking users for permission to track them.

But when iOS 14.5 (currently in developer beta) is released to the general public sometime in early spring, Apple will actually start enforcing its new rules, meaning that iPhone users will probably start seeing a lot more requests. Those requests will appear at various points during the usage of an app, but they’ll all carry a standardized message asking whether the app can “track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites,” followed by a customized explanation from the developer.

Once an app has asked for this permission, it will also show up in the Tracking menu, where users can toggle app tracking on and off at any time. They can also enable app tracking across all apps or opt out of these requests entirely with a single toggle.

One point worth emphasizing — something already stated on Apple’s developer website but not entirely clear in media reports (including our own)— is that these rules aren’t limited to the IDFA identifier. Yes, IDFA is what Apple controls directly, but a company spokesperson said that when a user opts out of tracking, Apple will also expect developers to stop using any other identifiers (such as hashed email addresses) to track users for ad targeting purposes, and not to share that information with data brokers.

This does not, however, stop developers from tracking users across multiple apps if all those apps are operated by a single company.

The Apple spokesperson also said that Apple’s own apps will abide by these rules — you won’t see any requests from Apple, however, since it doesn’t track users across third-party apps for ad targeting purposes. (As previously noted, there’s a separate Personalized Ads option that determines whether Apple can use its own first-party data to target ads.)

Facebook has been particularly vocal in criticizing the change, arguing that this will hurt small businesses who use targeting to run effective ad campaigns, and that the change benefits Apple’s bottom line.

Apple has pushed back against criticism in privacy-focused speeches, as well as in a report called A Day in the Life of Your Data, which lays out how users are actually tracked and targeted. In fact, the report has just been updated with more information about ad auctions, ad attribution and Apple’s own advertising products.

#advertising-tech, #app-tracking-transparency, #apple, #apps, #mobile, #privacy

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Spotify opens a second personalized playlist to sponsors, after ‘Discover Weekly’ in 2019

Spotify is opening up its personalized playlist, “On Repeat,” to advertising sponsorship. This playlist, launched in 2019 and featuring users’ favorite songs, is only the second personalized playlist on the music streaming service that’s being made available for sponsorship. Spotify’s flagship playlist, “Discover Weekly,” became the first in 2019.

The sponsorship is made possible through the company’s Sponsored Playlist ad product, which gives brands the ability to market to Spotify’s free users with audio, video and display ad messages across breaks, allowing the advertiser to own the experience “end-to-end,” the company says.

It also gives brands an opportunity to reach Spotify’s most engaged users.

When Spotify opened up “Discover Weekly” to sponsorship, for example, it noted that users who listened to this playlist streamed more than double those who didn’t. Similarly, “On Repeat” caters to Spotify’s more frequent users because of its focus on tracks users have played most often.

Since the launch of “On Repeat” in September 2019, Spotify says the playlist has reached 12 billion streams globally. Fans have also spent over 750 million hours listening to the playlist, where artists like Bad Bunny, The Weeknd, and Ariana Grande have topped the list for “most repeated” listens.

Though Spotify today offers its numerous owned and operated playlists for sponsorship, its personalized playlists have largely been off-limits — except for “Discover Weekly.” These are highly-valued properties, as Spotify directs users to stream collections powered by its algorithms, which Spotify organizes in its ever-expanding “Made for You” hub in its app. Here, users can jump in between “Discover Weekly,” and other collections organized by genre, artist, decade, and more — like new releases, favorites, suggestions, and more.

With the launch of sponsorship for “On Repeat,” brands across 30 global markets, including North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific will be able to own another of Spotify’s largest personalized properties for a time.

The first U.S. advertiser to take advantage of the sponsorship is TurboTax, which cited the personalization elements and user engagement with the playlist among the reasons why the ad product made sense for them.

“Like music, taxes are not one size fits all. Every tax situation is unique and every individual’s needs are different,” said Cathleen Ryan, VP of Marketing for TurboTax, in a statement about the launch. “We’re using Spotify’s deep connection to its engaged listeners to get in front of consumers and show them that with TurboTax you can get the expertise you need on your terms. With Spotify, we’re able to get both reach and unique targeting that ensures the right audiences know about the tools, guidance and expertise that TurboTax offers,” she added.

#ad-technology, #adtech, #advertising, #advertising-tech, #brands, #media, #personalization, #playlist, #spotify, #streaming-music, #turbotax

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Holler raises $36M to power ‘conversational media’ in your favorite apps

Holler, described by founder and CEO Travis Montaque as “a conversational media company,” just announced that it’s raised $36 million in Series B funding.

You may not know what conversational media is, but there’s a decent chance you’ve used Holler’s technology. For example, if you’ve added a sticker or a GIF to your Venmo payments, Holler actually manages the app’s search and suggestion experience around that media. (You may notice a little “powered by Holler” identifier at the bottom of the window.)

Montaque told me the company started out initially as a news and video content app before focusing on messaging in 2016. Messaging, he argued, is “the most important experience for people online,” since “it’s where we communicate with the people who are closest to us.”

He continued, “It seemed bizarre that we haven’t seen much innovation in the text messaging experience since the first text message was sent in 1992.”

So Holler works with partners like PayPal-owned Venmo and The Meet Group to bring more compelling content into the messaging side of their apps — or as Montaque put it, the startup aims to “enrich conversations everywhere.”

Holler/Venmo screenshot

Image Credits: Holler

There’s both an art and a science to this, he said. The art involves creating and curating the best stickers and GIFs, while the science takes the form of Holler’s Suggestion AI technology, which will recommend the right content based on the user’s conversations and contexts — the stickers and GIFs you want to send in a dating app are probably different from what you’d in a work-related chat. Montaque said that this context-focused approach allows the company to provide smart recommendations in a way that also respects user privacy.

“I believe that the future is context, not identity,” he said. “Because I don’t really need to know about Anthony, I just need to know someone is in need of lunch. If I know you’re in the mood for Mexican food, I don’t need to know every aspect of the last 10 times you went to a Mexican restaurant.”

Holler monetizes this content by partnering with brands like HBO Max, Ikea and Starbucks to create branded stickers and GIFs that become part of the company’s content library. Montaque said the startup has also worked with brands to measure the impact of these campaigns across a variety of metrics.

Holler’s content now reaches 75 million users each month, compared to 19 million users a year ago, while revenue has grown 226%, he said. (Apparently, last year was the first time the company saw significant revenue growth.)

The startup has now raised more than $51 million in total funding. The Series B was co-led by CityRock Venture Partners and New General Market Partners, with participation from Gaingels, Interplay Ventures, Relevance Ventures, Towerview Ventures and WorldQuant Ventures.

“Holler is more than simply a groundbreaking technology company,” said CityRock Managing Partner Oliver Libby in a statement. “Under Travis Montaque’s visionary leadership, Holler boldly stands for a new era of ethics in social media, and also deeply reflects the values of diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”

Montaque (who, as a Black tech CEO, wrote a post for TechCrunch last year about bringing more diversity to the industry) said that Holler will use the funds to continue developing its product and advertising model. For one thing, he noted that although stickers and GIFs were an obvious starting point, the company is now looking to explore and create new media formats.

“We want to invent a new kind of content consumption paradigm,” he said.

#advertising-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #holler, #messaging, #mobile, #startups, #tc, #travis-montaque

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UK’s antitrust watchdog takes a closer look at Facebook-Giphy

Potential threats to the free flow of GIFs continue to trouble the UK’s competition watchdog.

Facebook’s $400M purchase of Giphy, announced last year, is now facing an in-depth probe by the CMA after the regulator found the acquisition raises competition concerns related to digital advertising. It now has until September 15 to investigate and report.

The watchdog took a first look at the deal last summer. It kept on looking into 2021. And then last week the CMA laid out its concerns — saying the (already completed) Facebook-Giphy acquisition could further reduce competition in the digital advertising market where the former is already a kingpin player (with over 50% share of the display advertising market).

The regulator said it had found evidence that, prior to the acquisition, Giphy had planned to expand its own digital advertising partnerships to other countries, including the UK.

“If Giphy and Facebook remain merged, Giphy could have less incentive to expand its digital advertising, leading to a loss of potential competition in this market,” it wrote a week ago.

The CMA also said it was worried a Facebook-owned Giphy could harm social media rivals were the tech giant were to squeeze the supply of animated pixels to others — or require rivals to sign up to worse terms (such as forcing them to hand over user data which it might then use to further fuel its ad targeting engines, gaining yet more market power).

On March 25 the companies were given five days by the regulator to address its concerns — by offering legally binding proposals intended to allay concerns.

An in-depth ‘phase 2’ investigation could have been avoided if concessions were offered which were acceptable to the regulator but that is evidently not the case as the CMA has announced the phase 2 referral today. And given the announcement has come just five working days after the last notification it appears no concessions were offered.

We’ve reached out to Facebook and the CMA for comment.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “We will continue to fully cooperate with the CMA’s investigation. This merger is good for competition and in the interests of everyone in the UK who uses Giphy and our services — from developers to service providers to content creators.”

While Facebook has already completed its acquisition of Giphy, the CMA’s investigation continues to put a freeze on its ability to integrate Giphy more deeply into its wider business empire.

Albeit, given Facebook’s dominant position in the digital advertising space, its business need to move fast via product innovation is a lot less pressing than years past — when it was building its market dominance free from regulatory intervention.

In recent years, the CMA has been paying close mind to the digital ad market. Back in 2019 it reported report substantial concerns over the power of the adtech duopoly, Google and Facebook. Although in its final report it said it would wait for the government to legislate, rather than make an intervention to address market power imbalances itself.

The UK is now in the process of setting up a pro-competition regulator with a dedicated focus on big tech — in response to concerns about the ‘winner takes all’ dynamics seen in digital markets. This incoming Digital Market Unit will oversee a “pro-competition” regime for Internet platforms that will see fresh compliance requirements in the coming years.

In the meanwhile, the CMA continues to scrutinize tech deals and strategic changes — including recently opening a probe of Google’s plan to depreciate support for third party cookies in Chrome after complaints from other industry players.

In January it also announced it was taking a look at Uber’s plan to acquire Autocab. However on Monday it cleared that deal, finding only “limited indirect” competition between the pair, and not finding evidence to indicate Autocab was likely to become a significant and more direct competitor to Uber in the future.

The regulator also considered whether Autocab and Uber could seek to put Autocab’s taxi company customers that compete against Uber at a disadvantage by reducing the quality of the booking and dispatch software sold to them, or by forcing them to pass data to Uber. But its phase 1 probe found other credible software suppliers and referral networks that the CMA said these taxi companies could switch to if Uber were to act in such a way — leading to it to clear the deal.

#advertising-tech, #antitrust, #competition-and-markets-authority, #digital-advertising, #europe, #facebook, #giphy, #privacy, #social, #united-kingdom

0

Daily Crunch: Google starts testing its cookie alternative

Google tries out new ad targeting technology, PayPal adds cryptocurrency support and Substack raises additional funding. This is your Daily Crunch for March 30, 2021.

The big story: Google starts testing its cookie alternative

Google announced today that it has begun rolling out a new technology called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) in a developer trial. FLoC is meant to serve as an alternative to personally identifiable cookies (which are being phased out by Google and other platforms), with Google analyzing your web browsing behavior and grouping you with other people who have similar interests, for ad-targeting purposes.

The trial is starting out in a number of geographies, including the United States — but not in Europe, where there are concerns about compliance with Europe’s GDPR privacy regulations.

The tech giants

YouTube tests hiding dislike counts on videos — The company says it will run a “small experiment” with different designs that hide dislike counts, but not the “dislike” button itself.

Ballot counting for Amazon’s historic union vote starts today — Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama has become ground zero for one of the most import labor efforts in modern American history.

PayPal’s new feature allows US consumers to check out using cryptocurrency — The feature expands on PayPal’s current investments in the cryptocurrency market.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Celebrity video request site Cameo reaches unicorn status with $100M raise — Cameo has been building a good deal of steam in recent years, but it also got a major boost amidst the pandemic.

Substack confirms $65M raise, promises to ‘rapidly’ expand its financial backing of newly independent writers — Substack did not provide material new growth metrics, instead saying that it has “more than half a million people” paying for writers on its network.

NFT art marketplace SuperRare closes $9M Series A — SuperRare launched its art platform in 2018, since then it has differentiated by maintaining a closed early access platform, closely curating the art that’s sold.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

The Tonal EC-1 — Remember our deep dives into the history, businesses and growth of Patreon, Niantic, Roblox, Kobalt and Unity? We’re bringing the format back with an in-depth, multi-part look at fitness startup Tonal.

Is Substack really worth $650M? — More thoughts on Substack’s finances.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

A trove of imported console games vanish from Chinese online stores — A handful of grey market videogame console vendors on Taobao stopped selling and shipping this week.

Applications for Startup Battlefield at TC Disrupt 2021 are now open — TechCrunch is on the hunt for game-changing and ground-breaking startups from around the globe to feature in Startup Battlefield during TechCrunch Disrupt 2021 this fall.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#advertising-tech, #daily-crunch, #google, #policy

0

Google starts trialing its FLoC cookie alternative in Chrome

Google today announced that it is rolling out Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), a crucial part of its Privacy Sandbox project for Chrome, as a developer origin trial.

FLoC is meant to be an alternative to the kind of cookies that advertising technology companies use today to track you across the web. Instead of a personally identifiable cookie, FLoC runs locally and analyzes your browsing behavior to group you into a cohort of like-minded people with similar interests (and doesn’t share your browsing history with Google). That cohort is specific enough to allow advertisers to do their thing and show you relevant ads, but without being so specific as to allow marketers to identify you personally.

This “interest-based advertising,” as Google likes to call it, allows you to hide within the crowd of users with similar interests. All the browser displays is a cohort ID and all your browsing history and other data stay locally.

Image Credits: Google / Getty Images

The trial will start in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and the Philippines. Over time, Google plans to scale it globally. As we learned earlier this month, Google is not running any tests in Europe because of concerns around GDPR and other privacy regulations (in part, because it’s unclear whether FLoC IDs should be considered personal data under these regulations).

Users will be able to opt out from this origin trial, just like they will be able to do so with all other Privacy Sandbox trials.

Unsurprisingly, given how FLoC upends many of the existing online advertising systems in place, not everybody loves this idea. Advertisers obviously love the idea of being able to target individual users, though Google’s preliminary data shows that using these cohorts leads to similar results for them and that advertisers can expect to see “at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”

Google notes that its own advertising products will get the same access to FLoC IDs as its competitors in the ads ecosystem.

But it’s not just the advertising industry that is eyeing this project skeptically. Privacy advocates aren’t fully sold on the idea either. The EFF, for example, argues that FLoC will make it easier for marketing companies that want to fingerprint users based on the various FLoC IDs they expose, for example. That’s something Google is addressing with its Privacy Budget proposal, but how well that will work remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, users would probably prefer to just browse the web without seeing ads (no matter what the advertising industry may want us to believe) and without having to worry about their privacy. But online publishers continue to rely on advertising income to fund their sites.

With all of these divergent interests, it was always clear that Google’s initiatives weren’t going to please everyone. That friction was always built into the process. And while other browser vendors can outright block ads and third-party cookies, Google’s role in the advertising ecosystem makes this a bit more complicated.

“When other browsers started blocking third-party cookies by default, we were excited about the direction, but worried about the immediate impact,” Marshall Vale, Google’s product manager for Privacy Sandbox, writes in today’s announcement. “Excited because we absolutely need a more private web, and we know third-party cookies aren’t the long-term answer. Worried because today many publishers rely on cookie-based advertising to support their content efforts, and we had seen that cookie blocking was already spawning privacy-invasive workarounds (such as fingerprinting) that were even worse for user privacy. Overall, we felt that blocking third-party cookies outright without viable alternatives for the ecosystem was irresponsible, and even harmful, to the free and open web we all enjoy.”

It’s worth noting that FLoC, as well as Google’s other privacy sandbox initiatives, are still under development. The company says the idea here is to learn from these initial trials and evolve the project accordingly.

#advertising-tech, #australia, #brazil, #canada, #computing, #google, #google-search, #india, #indonesia, #japan, #mexico, #new-zealand, #online-advertising, #philippines, #software, #tracking, #united-states, #web-browsers

0

Amid pandemic, Middle East adtech startups play essential role in business growth

The pandemic’s impact on the business world encouraged adtech startups and digital marketing agencies to collaborate more, helping brands survive the pandemic by bringing businesses closer to consumers.

Although overall spending on advertising slowed in 2020, it is expected to recover in 2021 and reach $630 billion in 2024. According to Statista, North America spends the most on advertising, with second place going to Asia and Western Europe. The rest of Europe, Africa and the Middle East lag behind.

Although overall spending on advertising slowed in 2020, it is expected to recover in 2021 and reach $630 billion in 2024.

However, the Middle East embodies great potential. According to Statista, it boasts the highest growth, with a 600% increase in digital advertising in the MENA region between 2010 and 2015. Although consumers in the region used to prefer traditional advertising channels, the internet took over in 2020, with 44.2% of the total ad expenditures, while TV dropped to 30%.

Here are several essential characteristics of digital advertising in the Middle East region:

  1. According to a PwC report, 39% of shoppers in the Middle East use social media to find inspiration for purchases, compared to the global average of 29%.
  2. Due to the existence of a shadow economy, political regulations and unofficial business, the amount of digital ad spending in the MENA region ranged from $1 billion to $1.2 billion in 2020.
  3. Paid social is the leading category in digital advertising expenditures in the MENA region. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the largest in terms of active YouTube users.
  4. There are more than 500 digital agencies listed in the region. UAE is leading in terms of big advertising agencies, while Egypt and Saudi Arabia are famous for small- and medium-size agencies. Most digital marketing talent and creative resources reside in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, while most adtech startups are born in Israel, UAE and Qatar, according to digital marketing consultant Yasser Ahmad.
  5. E-commerce is driving growth, hitting $17 billion in the Middle East in 2020, according to Statista, with many online shoppers increasing the frequency of purchases during the pandemic.

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #column, #digital-marketing, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-market-map, #middle-east, #online-advertising, #social-media, #tc

0

Staying ahead of the curve on Google’s Core Web Vitals

One year.

That’s how long Google gave developers to start implementing required changes to improve user experience. In early May 2020, Google published a modest post on one of its developer blogs introducing Core Web Vitals — a set of metrics that will result in major changes to the way websites are ranked by the search engine. In May 2021, Google will officially add those Core Web Vitals to the various other “page experience” signals it analyzes when deciding how to rank websites.

The quest to improve a website’s position in search results has spawned hundreds (if not thousands) of how-to articles over the years. Businesses that are scared about taking a hit to SEO from Google’s new metrics have been pushing developers to optimize company websites. At the same time, developers have been frustrated because there’s a lot that goes into user experience that isn’t reflected in the Core Web Vitals. A lot of details have to be juggled.

Aside from improved SEO, small business websites optimizing for the new metrics will reap the rewards of an improved user experience for their site visitors.

But what about the startups, tech companies and small business owners who handle their own websites in-house? What about the agencies and enterprise platforms that manage or host hundreds or even thousands of websites for clients? While many are looking at the Core Web Vitals as a big hoop to jump through to please the search powers that be, others are seeing — and seizing — the opportunities that come along with this change.

Improving user experience will be rewarded

Small businesses wondering “What’s in it for me?” should recognize that if all other things are equal, optimizing for the Core Web Vitals is going to be a significant tiebreaker between websites. If a company’s site is ranking really well with these rigorous metrics, it will have an edge against competitors in searches when content and ranking are otherwise comparable.

Aside from improved SEO, small business websites optimizing for the new metrics will reap the rewards of an improved user experience for their site visitors. Internet users frequently complain about long wait times as pages are loading, or problems with an entire page shifting just as the user goes to click a specific button — which results in them clicking the wrong button and causing further delays. For online retail websites, a poor user experience leads to lost revenue as users abandon shopping carts and never return to a site. Once the Core Web Vitals go into effect, companies that have made the efforts to provide smooth and speedy performance for visitors will win out against competitors that retain sluggish designs.

Sparking overdue conversations

#advertising-tech, #column, #ec-column, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #google-search, #search-engine-optimization, #user-experience, #website-design

0

Ketch raises $23M to automate privacy and data compliance

Ketch, a startup aiming to help businesses navigate the increasingly complex world of online privacy regulation and data compliance, is announcing that it has raised $23 million in Series A funding.

The company is also officially coming out of stealth. I actually wrote about Ketch’s free PrivacyGrader tool last year, but now it’s revealing the broader vision, as well as the products that businesses will actually be paying for.

The startup was founded by CEO Tom Chavez and CTO Vivek Vaidya. The pair previously founded Krux, a data management platform acquired by Salesforce in 2016, and Vaidya told me that Ketch is the answer to a question that they’d begun to ask themselves: “What kind of infrastructure can we build that will make our former selves better?”

Chavez said that Ketch is designed to help businesses automate the process of remaining compliant with data regulations, wherever their visitors and customers are. He suggested that with geographically specific regulations like Europe’s GDPR in place, there’s a temptation to comply globally with the most stringent rules, but that’s not necessary or desirable.

“It’s possible to use data to grow and to comply with the regulations,” Chavez said. “One of our customers turned off digital marketing completely in order to comply. This has got to stop […] They are a very responsible customer, but they didn’t know there are tools to navigate this complexity.”

Ketch orchestration screenshot

Image Credits: Ketch

The pair also suggested that things are even more complex than you might think, because true compliance means going beyond the “Hollywood facade” of a privacy banner — it requires actually implementing a customer’s requests across multiple platforms. For example, Vaidya said that when someone unsubscribes to your email list, there’s “a complex workflow that needs to be executed that to ensure that the email is not going to continue … and make sure the customer’s choices are respected in a timely manner.”

After all, Chavez noted, if a customer tells you, “I want to delete my data,” and yet they keep getting marketing emails or targeted ads, they’re not going to be satisfied if you say, “Well, I’ve handled that in the four walls of my own business, that’s an issue with my marketing and email partners.”

Chavez also said that Ketch isn’t designed to replace any of a business’ existing marketing and customer data tools, but rather to “allow our customers to configure how they want to comply vis-a-vis what jurisdiction they’re operating in.” For example, the funding announcement includes a statement from Patreon’s legal counsel Priya Sanger describing Ketch as “an easily configurable consent management and orchestration system that was able to be deployed internationally” that “required minimal engineering time to integrate into our systems.”

As for the Series A, it comes from CRV, super{set} (the startup studio founded by Chavez and Vaidya), Ridge Ventures, Acrew Capital and Silicon Valley Bank. CRV’s Izhar Armony and Acrew’s Theresia Gouw are joining Ketch’s board of directors.

And if you’d like to learn more about the product, Ketch is hosting a webinar at 11am Pacific today.

#advertising-tech, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #ketch, #tc

0

Google isn’t testing FLoCs in Europe yet

Early this month Google quietly began trials of ‘Privacy Sandbox’: Its planned replacement adtech for tracking cookies, as it works toward phasing out support for third party cookies in the Chrome browser — testing a system to reconfigure the dominant web architecture by replacing individual ad targeting with ads that target groups of users (aka Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoCs), and which — it loudly contended — will still generate a fat upside for advertisers.

There are a number of gigantic questions about this plan. Not least whether targeting groups of people who are non-transparently stuck into algorithmically computed interest-based buckets based on their browsing history is going to reduce the harms that have come to be widely associated with behavioral advertising.

If your concern is online ads which discriminate against protected groups or seek to exploit vulnerable people (e.g. those with a gambling addiction), FLoCs may very well just serve up more of the abusive same. The EFF has, for example, called FLoCs a “terrible idea”, warning the system may amplify problems like discrimination and predatory targeting.

Advertisers also query whether FLoCs will really generate like-for-like revenue, as Google claims.

Competition concerns are also closely dogging Google’s Privacy Sandbox, which is under investigation by UK antitrust regulators — and has drawn scrutiny from the US Department of Justice too, as Reuters reported recently.

Adtech players complain the shift will merely increase Google’s gatekeeper power over them by blocking their access to web users’ data even as Google can continue to track its own users — leveraging that first party data alongside a new moat they claim will keep them in the dark about what individuals are doing online. (Though whether it will actually do that is not at all clear.)

Antitrust is of course a convenient argument for the adtech industry to use to strategically counter the prospect of privacy protections for individuals. But competition regulators on both sides of the pond are concerned enough over the power dynamics of Google ending support for tracking cookies that they’re taking a closer look.

And then there’s the question of privacy itself — which obviously merits close scrutiny too.

Google’s sales pitch for the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ is evident in its choice of brand name — which suggests its keen to push the perception of a technology that protects privacy.

This is Google’s response to the rising store of value being placed on protecting personal data — after years of data breach and data misuse scandals.

A terrible reputation now dogs the tracking industry (or the “data industrial complex”, as Apple likes to denounce it) — as a result of high profile scandals like Kremlin-fuelled voter manipulation in the US but also just the demonstrable dislike web users have of being ad-stalking around the Internet. (Very evident in the ever increasing use of tracker- and ad-blockers; and in the response of other web browsers which have adopted a number of anti-tracking measures years ahead of Google-owned Chrome).

Given Google’s hunger for its Privacy Sandbox to be perceived as pro-privacy it’s perhaps no small irony, then, that it’s not actually running these origin tests of FLoCs in Europe — where the world’s most stringent and comprehensive online privacy laws apply.

AdExchanger reported yesterday on comments made by a Google engineer during a meeting of the Improving Web Advertising Business Group at the World Wide Web Consortium on Tuesday. “For countries in Europe, we will not be turning on origin trials [of FLoC] for users in EEA [European Economic Area] countries,” Michael Kleber is reported to have said.

TechCrunch had a confirm from Google in early March that this is the case. “Initially, we plan to begin origin trials in the US and plan to carry this out internationally (including in the UK / EEA) at a later date,” a spokesman told us earlier this month.

“As we’ve shared, we are in active discussions with independent authorities — including privacy regulators and the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority — as with other matters they are critical to identifying and shaping the best approach for us, for online privacy, for the industry and world as a whole,” he added then.

At issue here is the fact that Google has chosen to auto-enrol sites in the FLoC origin trials — rather than getting manual sign ups which would have offered a path for it to implement a consent flow.

And lack of consent to process personal data seems to be the legal area of concern for conducting such online tests in Europe where legislation like the ePrivacy Directive (which covers tracking cookies) and the more recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which further strengthens requirements for consent as a legal basis, both apply.

Asked how consent is being handled for the trials Google’s spokesman told us that some controls will be coming in April: “With the Chrome 90 release in April, we’ll be releasing the first controls for the Privacy Sandbox (first, a simple on/off), and we plan to expand on these controls in future Chrome releases, as more proposals reach the origin trial stage, and we receive more feedback from end users and industry.”

It’s not clear why Google is auto-enrolling sites into the trial rather than asking for opt-ins — beyond the obvious that such a step would add friction and introduce another layer of complexity by limiting the size of the test pool to only those who would consent. Google presumably doesn’t want to be so straightjacketed during product dev.

“During the origin trial, we are defaulting to supporting all sites that already contain ads to determine what FLoC a profile is assigned to,” its spokesman told us when we asked why it’s auto-enrolling sites. “Once FLoC’s final proposal is implemented, we expect the FLoC calculation will only draw on sites that opt into participating.”

He also specified that any user who has blocked third-party cookies won’t be included in the Origin Trial — so the trial is not a full ‘free-for-all’, even in the US.

There are reasons for Google to tread carefully. Its Privacy Sandbox tests were quickly shown to be leaking data about incognito browsing mode — revealing a piece of information that could be used to aid user fingerprinting. Which obviously isn’t good for privacy.

“If FloC is unavailable in incognito mode by design then this allows the detection of users browsing in private browsing mode,” wrote security and privacy researcher, Dr Lukasz Olejnik, in an initial privacy analysis of the Sandbox this month in which he discussed the implications of the bug.

“While indeed, the private data about the FloC ID is not provided (and for a good reason), this is still an information leak,” he went on. “Apparently it is a design bug because the behavior seems to be foreseen to the feature authors. It allows differentiating between incognito and normal web browsing modes. Such behavior should be avoided.”

Google’s Privacy Sandbox tests automating a new form of browser fingerprinting is not ‘on message’ with the claimed boost for user privacy. But Google is presumably hoping to iron out such problems via testing and as development of the system continues.

(Indeed, Google’s spokesman also told us that “countering fingerprinting is an important goal of the Privacy Sandbox”, adding: “The group is developing technology to protect people from opaque or hidden techniques that share data about individual users and allow individuals to be tracked in a covert manner. One of these techniques, for example, involves using a device’s IP address to try and identify someone without their knowledge or ability to opt out.”)

At the same time it’s not clear whether or not Google needs to obtain user consent to run the tests legally in Europe. Other legal bases do exist — although it would take careful legal analysis to ascertain whether or not they could be used. But it’s certainly interesting that Google has decided it doesn’t want to risk testing if it can legally trial this tech in Europe without consent.

Likely relevant is the fact that the ePrivacy Directive is not like the harmonized GDPR — which funnels cross border complaints via a lead data supervisor, shrinking regulatory exposure at least in the first instance.

Any EU DPA may have competence to investigate matters related to ePrivacy in their national markets. To wit: At the end of last year France’s CNIL skewered Google with a $120M fine related to dropping tracking cookies without consent — underlining the risks of getting EU law on consent wrong. And a privacy-related fine for Privacy Sandbox would be terrible PR. So Google may have calculated it’s simply less risky to wait.

Under EU law, certain types of personal data are also considered highly sensitive (aka ‘special category data’) and require an even higher bar of explicit consent to process. Such data couldn’t be bundled into a site-level consent — but would require specific consent for each instance. So, in other words, there would be even more friction involved in testing with such data.

That may explain why Google plans to do regional testing later — if it can figure out how to avoid processing such sensitive data. (Relevant: Analysis of Google’s proposal suggests the final version intends to avoid processing sensitive data in the computation of the FLoC ID — to avoid exactly that scenario.)

If/when Google does implement Privacy Sandbox tests in Europe “later”, as it has said it will (having also professed itself “100% committed to the Privacy Sandbox in Europe”), it will presumably do so when it has added the aforementioned controls to Chrome — meaning it would be in a position to offer some kind of prompt asking users if they wish to turn the tech off (or, better still, on).

Though, again, it’s not clear how exactly this will be implemented — and whether a consent flow will be part of the tests.

Google has also not provided a timeline for when tests will start in Europe. Nor would it specify the other countries it’s running tests in beside the US when we asked about that.

At the time of writing it had not responded to a number of follow up questions either but we’ll update this report if we get more detail.

The (current) lack of regional tests raises questions about the suitability of Privacy Sandbox for European users — as the New York Times’ Robin Berjon has pointed out, noting via Twitter that “the market works differently”.

“Not doing origin tests is already a problem… but not even knowing if it could eventually have a legal basis on which to run seems like a strange position to take?” he also wrote.

Google is surely going to need to test FLoCs in Europe at some point. Because the alternative — implementing regionally untested adtech — is unlikely to be a strong sell to advertisers who are already crying foul over Privacy Sandbox on competition and revenue risk grounds.

Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), meanwhile — which, under GDPR, is Google’s lead data supervisor in the region — confirmed to us that Google has been consulting with it about the Privacy Sandbox plan.

“Google has been consulting the DPC on this matter and we were aware of the roll-out of the trial,” deputy commissioner Graham Doyle told us today. “As you are aware, this has not yet been rolled-out in the EU/EEA. If, and when, Google present us with detail plans, outlining their intention to start using this technology within the EU/EEA, we will examine all of the issues further at that point.”

The DPC has a number of investigations into Google’s business triggered by GDPR complaints — including a May 2019 probe into its adtech and a February 2020 investigation into its processing of users’ location data — all of which are ongoing.

But — in one legacy example of the risks of getting EU data protection compliance wrong — Google was fined $57M by France’s CNIL back in January 2019 (under GDPR as its EU users hadn’t yet come under the jurisdiction of Ireland’s DPC) for, in that case, not making it clear enough to Android users how it processes their personal information.

#advertising-tech, #data-protection, #eprivacy-directive, #eu, #europe, #flocs, #gdpr, #google, #privacy, #privacy-sandbox, #tc

0

Kargo unveils its new Fabrik publishing system

Digital advertising company Kargo is launching a new product and new business unit called Fabrik.

Founder and CEO Harry Kargman explained that Fabrik is a content management system designed for publishers’ modern needs and integrated with Kargo’s advertising technology.

Kargman suggested that he sees this as part of Kargo’s broader mission of “saving publishing.” That might seem like a tall order for an ad business, but he said the company has tried to do that “by driving extraordinary ad experiences and monetization.” And yet, he’s come to realize, “That’s not enough.”

In particular, Kargman came to realize that many websites have “too much weight” and load far too slowly (to illustrate his point, he loaded the TechCrunch homepage, and it was indeed slower than I would like). This drives readers away and also has a detrimental effect on Google search rankings.

So the goal with Fabrik is to create a “lightning fast” web experience, which you can see for yourself on the OK Magazine website. Fabrik says that one of the key steps to achieving this speed is by eliminating the need for third-party trackers and plugins — in fact, Kargman described plugins as “the death of the internet” and told me he often asks publishers, “Do you want to make money, or do you want to have a lot of plugins?”

“We built it for Google’s best practices and the core Web Vitals,” added COO Michael Shaughnessy. “We’re very strategic about how we load items that would really slow us down.”

This launch comes as many publishers are exploring business models beyond advertising, such as subscriptions and memberships. Shaughnessy suggested that Fabrik is complementary to those efforts, because it’s “simplifying the foundation,” thus freeing teams to focus on new commercial initiatives.

As for the advertising side, Kargman said, “We think we’ve built our adtech directly into Fabrik in a way that there’s absolutely no reason not to use Kargo — but certainly, it doesn’t require you to exclusively use Kargo. We expect publishers to monetize their own sites, to cut branded entertainment deals, to do all the good things that they do.”

And as previously mentioned, the plan is for Fabrik to be a separate business unit under the Kargo’s corporate umbrella, with its own customers and its own CEO — Kargman said he’s talking to a potential hire, but it’s “not quite ready yet to announce.”

#advertising-tech, #fabrik, #kargo, #media, #startups

0

US privacy, consumer, competition and civil rights groups urge ban on ‘surveillance advertising’

Ahead of another big tech vs Congress ‘grab your popcorn’ grilling session, scheduled for March 25 — when US lawmakers will once again question the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter on the unlovely topic of misinformation — a coalition of organizations across the privacy, antitrust, consumer protection and civil rights spaces has called for a ban on “surveillance advertising”, further amplifying the argument that “big tech’s toxic business model is undermining democracy”.

The close to 40-strong coalition behind this latest call to ban ‘creepy ads’ which rely on the mass tracking and profiling of web users in order to target them with behavioral ads includes the American Economic Liberties Project, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Center for Humane Technology, Epic.org, Fair Vote, Media Matters for America, the Tech Transparency Project and The Real Facebook Oversight Board, to name a few.

As leaders across a broad range of issues and industries, we are united in our concern for the safety of our communities and the health of democracy,” they write in the open letter. “Social media giants are eroding our consensus reality and threatening public safety in service of a toxic, extractive business model. That’s why we’re joining forces in an effort to ban surveillance advertising.”

The coalition is keen to point out that less toxic non-tracking alternatives (like contextual ads) exist, while arguing that greater transparency and oversight of adtech infrastructure could help clean up a range of linked problems, from junk content and rising conspiracism to ad fraud and denuded digital innovation.

“There is no silver bullet to remedy this crisis – and the members of this coalition will continue to pursue a range of different policy approaches, from comprehensive privacy legislation to reforming our antitrust laws and liability standards,” they write. “But here’s one thing we all agree on: It’s time to ban surveillance advertising.”

“Big Tech platforms amplify hate, illegal activities, and conspiracism — and feed users increasingly extreme content — because that’s what generates the most engagement and profit,” they warn.

“Their own algorithmic tools have boosted everything from white supremacist groups and Holocaust denialism to COVID-19 hoaxes, counterfeit opioids and fake cancer cures. Echo chambers, radicalization, and viral lies are features of these platforms, not bugs — central to the business model.”

The coalition also warns over surveillance advertising’s impact on the traditional news business, noting that shrinking revenues for professional journalism is raining more harm down upon the (genuine) information ecosystem democracies need to thrive.

The potshots are well rehearsed at this point although it’s an oversimplification to blame the demise of traditional news on tech giants so much as ‘giant tech’: aka the industrial disruption wrought by the Internet making so much information freely available. But dominance of the programmatic adtech pipeline by a couple of platform giants clearly doesn’t help. (Australia’s recent legislative answer to this problem is still too new to assess for impacts but there’s a risk its news media bargaining code will merely benefit big media and big tech while doing nothing about the harms of either industry profiting off of outrage.)

“Facebook and Google’s monopoly power and data harvesting practices have given them an unfair advantage, allowing them to dominate the digital advertising market, siphoning up revenue that once kept local newspapers afloat. So while Big Tech CEOs get richer, journalists get laid off,” the coalition warns, adding: “Big Tech will continue to stoke discrimination, division, and delusion — even if it fuels targeted violence or lays the groundwork for an insurrection — so long as it’s in their financial interest.”

Among a laundry list of harms the coalition is linking to the dominant ad-based online business models of tech giants Facebook and Google is the funding of what they describe as “insidious misinformation sites that promote medical hoaxes, conspiracy theories, extremist content, and foreign propaganda”.

“Banning surveillance advertising would restore transparency and accountability to digital ad placements, and substantially defund junk sites that serve as critical infrastructure in the disinformation pipeline,” they argue, adding: “These sites produce an endless drumbeat of made-to-go-viral conspiracy theories that are then boosted by bad-faith social media influencers and the platforms’ engagement-hungry algorithms — a toxic feedback loop fueled and financed by surveillance advertising.”

Other harms they point to are the risks posed to public health by platforms’ amplification of junk/bogus content such as COVID-19 conspiracy theories and vaccine misinformation; the risk of discrimination through unfairly selective and/or biased ad targeting, such as job ads that illegally exclude women or ethnic minorities; and the perverse economic incentives for ad platforms to amplify extremist/outrageous content in order to boost user engagement with content and ads, thereby fuelling societal division and driving partisanship as a byproduct of the fact platforms benefit financially from more content being spread.

The coalition also argues that the surveillance advertising system is “rigging the game against small businesses” because it embeds platform monopolies — which is a neat counterpoint to tech giants’ defensive claim that creepy ads somehow level the playing field for SMEs vs larger brands.

“While Facebook and Google portray themselves as lifelines for small businesses, the truth is they’re simply charging monopoly rents for access to the digital economy,” they write, arguing that the duopoly’s “surveillance-driven stranglehold over the ad market leaves the little guys with no leverage or choice” — opening them up to exploitation by big tech.

The current market structure — with Facebook and Google controlling close to 60% of the US ad market — is thus stifling innovation and competition, they further assert.

“Instead of being a boon for online publishers, surveillance advertising disproportionately benefits Big Tech platforms,” they go on, noting that Facebook made $84.2BN in 2020 ad revenue and Google made $134.8BN off advertising “while the surveillance ad industry ran rife with allegations of fraud”.

The campaign being kicked off is by no means the first call for a ban on behavioral advertising but given how many signatories are backing this one it’s a sign of the scale of the momentum building against a data-harvesting business model that has shaped the modern era and allowed a couple of startups to metamorphosize into society- and democracy-denting giants.

That looks important as US lawmakers are now paying close attention to big tech impacts — and have a number of big tech antitrust cases actively on the table. Although it was European privacy regulators that were among the first to sound the alarm over microtargeting’s abusive impacts and risks for democratic societies.

Back in 2018, in the wake of the Facebook data misuse and voter targeting scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the UK’s ICO called for an ethical pause on the use of online ad tools for political campaigning — penning a report entitled Democracy Disrupted? Personal information and political influence.

It’s no small irony that the self-same regulator has so far declined to take any action against the adtech industry’s unlawful use of people’s data — despite warning in 2019 that behavioral advertising is out of control.

The ICO’s ongoing inaction seems likely to have fed into the UK government’s decision that a dedicated unit is required to oversee big tech.

In recent years the UK has singled out the online ad space for antitrust concern — saying it will establish a pro-competition regulator to tackle big tech’s dominance, following a market study of the digital advertising sector carried out in 2019 by its Competition and Markets Authority which reported substantial concerns over the power of the adtech duopoly.

Last month, meanwhile, the European Union’s lead data protection supervisor urged not a pause but a ban on targeted advertising based on tracking internet users’ digital activity — calling on regional lawmakers’ to incorporate the lever into a major reform of digital services rules which is intended to boost operators’ accountability, among other goals.

The European Commission’s proposal had avoided going so far. But negotiations over the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act are ongoing.

Last year the European Parliament also backed a tougher stance on creepy ads. Again, though, the Commission’s framework for tackling online political ads does not suggest anything so radical — with EU lawmakers pushing for greater transparency instead.

It remains to be seen what US lawmakers will do but with US civil society organizations joining forces to amplify an anti-ad-targeting message there’s rising pressure to clean up the toxic adtech in its own backyard.

Commenting in a statement on the coalition’s website, Zephyr Teachout, an associate professor of law at Fordham Law School, said: “Facebook and Google possess enormous monopoly power, combined with the surveillance regimes of authoritarian states and the addiction business model of cigarettes. Congress has broad authority to regulate their business models and should use it to ban them from engaging in surveillance advertising.”

“Surveillance advertising has robbed newspapers, magazines, and independent writers of their livelihoods and commoditized their work — and all we got in return were a couple of abusive monopolists,” added David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails, in another supporting statement. “That’s not a good bargain for society. By banning this practice, we will return the unique value of writing, audio, and video to the people who make it rather than those who aggregate it.”

With US policymakers paying increasingly close attention to adtech, it’s interesting to see Google is accelerating its efforts to replace support for individual-level tracking with what it’s branded as a ‘privacy-safe’ alternative (FLoC).

Yet the tech it’s proposed via its Privacy Sandbox will still enable groups (cohorts) of web users to be targeted by advertisers, with ongoing risks for discrimination, the targeting of vulnerable groups of people and societal-scale manipulation — so lawmakers will need to pay close attention to the detail of the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ rather than Google’s branding.

“This is, in a word, bad for privacy,” warned the EFF, writing about the proposal back in 2019. “A flock name would essentially be a behavioral credit score: a tattoo on your digital forehead that gives a succinct summary of who you are, what you like, where you go, what you buy, and with whom you associate.”

“FLoC is the opposite of privacy-preserving technology,” it added. “Today, trackers follow you around the web, skulking in the digital shadows in order to guess at what kind of person you might be. In Google’s future, they will sit back, relax, and let your browser do the work for them.”

#advertising-tech, #behavioral-ads, #facebook, #google, #microtargeting, #misinformation, #online-ads, #policy, #privacy, #surveillance

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E-commerce marketing startup Yotpo raises $230M at a $1.4B valuation

Barely more than seven months after its most recent funding announcement, Yotpo is revealing that it has raised another $230 million in a Series F round that values the company at $1.4 billion (post-money).

“Our round, in my eyes, it’s all about celebrating the future of e-commerce,” co-founder and CEO Tomer Tagrin told me. “Brands don’t need to worry about connecting the marketing stack anymore.”

Where success in traditional retail has been determined by “location, location, location,” Tagrin said e-commerce is “all about consumer attention.” To capture that attention, he estimated the average brand is using 10 to 14 different marketing applications, creating a “pretty horrible experience.” So Yotpo — founded in 2011 and headquartered in New York City — aims to provide all of a brand’s e-commerce marketing needs in a single, integrated platform.

To illustrate this, Tagrin described a marketer wanting to create a customized offer just for users who had both purchased a product in the past 90 days and left a five-star review. Yotpo allows them to do that with “just the click of a button,” whereas “that experience was just not feasible before Yotpo,” he said.

The platform currently consists of four main products — Yotpo SMS Marketing, Yotpo Loyalty & Referrals, Yotpo Reviews and Yotpo Visual UGC — which integrate with each other, as well as with e-commerce platforms such as Shopify, Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Adobe-owned Magento and BigCommerce.

Yotpo CEO Tomer Tagrin

Yotpo CEO Tomer Tagrin

Tagrin said Yotpo still had money leftover from the last round but it decided to raise additional money to continue investing in product and marketing, as well for strategic acquisitions. (The company acquired SMSBump at the beginning of 2020 and Tagrin said it’s “70% of the way there” towards full integration.) Among other things, the company is planning to launch new products around customer communication and measuring a customer’s lifetime value.

Yotpo also says that it has now exceeded $100 million in annual recurring revenue, with the SMS marketing product growing revenue by 170% last year, while the loyalty product saw its revenue nearly double. Big brands like Patagonia and Steve Madden use the platform, but Tagrin pointed out that it’s also used by newer direct-to-consumer businesses like Princess Polly and has 30,000 paying customers over all.

“I like to say that Victoria’s Secret will die by a thousand cuts,” he said. “These are the mini-brands … the up-and-comer brands that are going to replace the incumbents.”

Yotpo has now raised more than $400 million in total funding, according to Crunchbase. The round was led by by Bessemer Venture Partners and Tiger Global, with participation from Claltech Investment, Coin Ventures, Hanaco, Vertex Ventures, Vintage Investment Partners, Capital Group and others.

“Tiger Global has long been bullish on eCommerce as the future of retail, having invested in disruptor brands like Warby Parker and Peloton, giants like JD.com, and best-in-class SaaS companies like Stripe and Twilio,” said Tiger’s John Curtius in a statement. “We are excited by Yotpo’s approach to provide a unified marketing tech stack and the value it provides to brands and online shoppers in the process.”

#advertising-tech, #bessemer-venture-partners, #ecommerce, #funding, #fundings-exits, #startups, #tc, #tiger-global, #yotpo

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Facebook is bringing ads to shorter videos and Stories

Facebook is expanding its monetization options for video creators. For anyone watching videos posted by those creators, that probably means you’ll see more ads.

Facebook App Monetization Director Yoav Arnstein wrote in a blog post that creators will now be able to include in-stream ads in videos that are as short as one minute — previously, the minimum was three minutes. Those ads will usually play after 30 seconds of a shorter video.

“Looking ahead, we’re exploring in-stream ad formats that increase engagement through rewards or product interaction — intending to help content creator payouts grow while providing a good viewing experience for people and a way for advertisers to reach relevant audiences,” Arnstein wrote, adding that the company is “especially focused on short-form video monetization” and will be testing a way to include ads that look like stickers to Facebook Stories.

Facebook splits the revenue from these ads with the video creators, and it says it’s also updating the program criteria. To participate, Facebook Pages must  nowhave 600,000 minutes of viewing time across all videos (previously only videos of three minutes or longer had counted) for the last 60 days and five or more active or Live videos.

On the Live side, Arnstein wrote that Facebook is moving its in-stream advertising program out of invite-only mode, allowing creators with 60,000 minutes of Live viewing in the last 60 days to participate. And it will be investing $7 million to encourage the adoption of Stars (a virtual currency that fans can use to support creators) by offering free Stars.

Non-advertising products are also continuing their international rollout. Arnstein wrote that paid online events (launched last summer) are available in 20 countries, with plans to expand to 24 more (including Argentina, Hong Kong and Ireland) in the coming weeks, while fan subscriptions are available in more than 25 countries and will be introduced in another 10 (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey).

#advertising-tech, #facebook, #media, #social

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Audience engagement startup Trufan raises $2.3M

Trufan, a startup selling tools helping marketers analyze their social followings and collect audience data, announced today that it has raised a $2.3 million seed round.

Despite raising a relatively small amount of funding ($4.1 million total), Trufan has already made two notable acquisitions. First, it acquired the SocialRank product and business in 2019, allowing it to offer capabilities like showing brands their most valuable social media followers. Then last year, it acquired Playr.gg, which marketers use to run giveaways that consumers enter by providing information such as their email addresses.

Across its products, Trufan says it has more than 10,000 free users and more than 600 paying customers, including Netflix, NBA, NFL, Sony Music and United Talent Agency.

Next up, the startup plans to integrate the two main products and launch a consolidated, privacy-compliant customer data and audience engagement platform with new branding and pricing. Co-founder and CEO Swish Goswami told me that the platform should be particularly attractive as regulators introduce new privacy regulations, Apple and Google add new restrictions to ad targeting based on third-party data and as consumers become more sensitive to how their data is used.

Trufan Founders

Trufan founders Aanikh Kler and Swish Goswami. Image Credits: Trufan

“People do not want to be tracked anonymously,” Goswami said. “People do not want their data taken away, but most of those people are attracted to the idea of data sharing if they get something in exchange.”

He added that it’s particularly important for brands to build up first-party customer data given the limitations of social networks: “You can have 50 million followers, but every time you post you don’t reach 50 million people.” If you’ve got 50 million email or phone numbers, on the other hand, you might actually reach most of those inboxes or phones.

The new funding comes from Moneta Ventures, with Moneta partner Sabya Das joining Trufan’s board of directors. GP Ventures, Protocol Ventures and Athlete Technology Group also participated, as did angel investors including Innovative Fitness founder Curtis Christophersen, Utah Jazz forward Derrick Favors and Chicago Bulls forward Thaddeus Young.

“Trufan is miles ahead in recognizing and removing roadblocks in the customer data space,” Das said in a statement. “We are excited to be backing them because they truly are all-star founders with an incredible team alongside them, and we believe in their conviction and ability to solve the first-party data problem.” 

 

#advertising-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #moneta-ventures, #recent-funding, #startups, #trufan

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After similar moves for Shopping and Flights, Google makes hotel listings free

Last year, Google made a significant change to its Google Shopping destination by making it free for e-commerce retailers to sell on Google, when before the Shopping tab had been dominated by paid product listings. It also made it free for partners to participate in Google Flights. Today, the company announced it’s now doing the same thing for hotel booking links on the Google.com/travel vertical.

Beginning this week, Google will make it free for hotels and travel companies around the world to appear in hotel booking links on Google.com/travel — a change that will give users a more comprehensive look into hotel room availability as they research and plan their trips.

The company is positioning this change as a way it can better help meet consumers’ needs, ahead of the expected return of travel as the pandemic comes to an end.

“When travel does resume in earnest, it’s crucial that people can find the information they’re looking for and easily connect with travel companies online,” writes Richard Holden, VP of Product Management for Google’s Travel efforts, in today’s announcement.

In reality, the adoption of free listings is part of a larger effort underway at Google to shift many of its destinations that were previously powered by paid ads to become free listings. On the e-commerce front, this shift was meant to strategically counteract the growing threat from Amazon in e-commerce, which has steadily grown its ad business over the years. Amazon is also now often the first place users go to search for products, bypassing Google entirely — a worrying threat to Google’s core ad business.

Image Credits: Google

Shortly after the launch of free e-commerce listings, Google said it saw increases in clicks to its Shopping tab (70% lift as of last June) and an increase of impressions on the Shopping tab (130% lift). The idea is that, over time, Google will be able to pull in more brands to its e-commerce platform, increasing competition. As the market becomes more crowded, some brands that were previously benefitting from the free listings will turn to ads in order to increase their visibility.

Travel, including flights and hotels, are other areas where Google is positioned to grow in terms of post-COVID web traffic. For the past several years, however, hotel booking links were offered on Google through paid Hotel Ads, which would display the real-time pricing and availability for specific travel dates.

With these listings now becoming free, consumers will have an expanded set of options. And that will make Google a more reliable place to search for bookings. It could help Google compete with an array of travel booking apps and services, which are also expected to boom in the post-COVID months to come. And though the pandemic is not over yet, there are already signals that some are treating it as such in the U.S., with states lifting mask mandates and Spring Breakers planning their annual trips to Florida beaches, for example. The full effect of the pandemic’s end hasn’t yet to be seen in travel, but consumer appetite is surely there after a year of locking down and staying at home.

Google today argues that the addition of the free listings will generate increased booking traffic and user engagement on its platform. And this will, in turn, expand the reach of advertisers’ Hotel Ads campaigns.

Meanwhile, the shift to free listing will help bring potential new advertisers into the pipeline, too, as hotel and travel companies will be able to list for free by establishing a Hotel Center account. Over time, Google says the onboarding process will be made even easier and it will reduce the complexity of its tools to provide the hotel listings. It notes that its existing hotel partners who already participate in the Hotel Prices API and Hotel Ads don’t have to take any action to appear in free booking links.

 

#ad-tech, #advertising, #advertising-tech, #google, #hotels, #search, #travel

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Daily Crunch: Google swears off ad-tracking

Google says it’s focusing on privacy-friendly approaches to ad targeting, Okta acquires Auth0 and a flying taxi startup raises $241 million. This is your Daily Crunch for March 3, 2021.

The big story: Google swears off ad-tracking

While Google had already announced it would be phasing out support for third-party cookies in Chrome, it went further today by declaring that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

In fact, Google’s David Temkin argued in a blog post that attempts to build alternative approaches to ad-tracking will not “meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.” Instead, he pointed to Google technologies like its interest-based Federated Learning of Cohorts.

The tech giants

Okta acquires cloud identity startup Auth0 for $6.5B — With Auth0, Okta gets a cloud identity company that helps developers embed identity management into applications.

Netflix launches ‘Fast Laughs,’ a TikTok-like feed of funny videos — This feature (now rolling out on iOS) allows users to watch, react to or share the short clips as well as add the show or movie to a Netflix watchlist.

Facebook’s Oversight Board already ‘a bit frustrated,’ and it hasn’t made a call on Trump ban yet — Board member and former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger implied that the binary choices the board has at its disposal aren’t as nuanced as he’d like.

Startups, funding and venture capital

‘Flying taxi’ startup Volocopter picks up another $241M, says service is now two years out — Alongside its vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, Volocopter has also been building a business case in which its vessels will be used in a taxi-style fleet in urban areas.

Identiq, a privacy-friendly fraud prevention startup, secures $47M at Series A — Identiq takes a different, more privacy-friendly approach to fraud prevention, without having to share a customer’s data with a third party.

After 200% ARR growth in 2020, CourseKey raises $9M to digitize trade schools — CourseKey’s B2B platform is designed to work with organizations that teach some of our most essential workers.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Eleven words and phrases to cut from your VC pitch deck — Weeks or even months of working on your pitch deck could come down to the 170 seconds (on average) that investors spend looking at it.

Create a handbook and integrate AI to onboard remote employees — Professionals have adapted to remote working, but the systems they use are still playing catch-up.

First impressions of AppLovin’s IPO filing — AppLovin’s filing tells the story of a rapidly growing company that has managed to scale adjusted profit as it has grown.

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which helps founders and startup teams get ahead. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Cables could help soft robots transform into harder structures — The sub-category of soft robotics has transformed the way many think about the field.

Dear Sophie: Can you demystify the H-1B process and E-3 premium processing? — The latest edition of “Dear Sophie,” the advice column that answers immigration-related questions about working at technology companies.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

#advertising-tech, #policy

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Google says it won’t adopt new tracking tech after phasing out cookies

While we’ve written about attempts to build alternatives to cookies that track users across websites, Google says it won’t be going down that route.

The search giant had already announced that it will be phasing out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, but today it went further, with David Temkin (Google’s director of product management for ads privacy and trust) writing in a blog post that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

“We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like [personally identifiable information] graphs based on people’s email addresses,” Temkin continued. “We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.”

This doesn’t mean ads won’t be targeted at all. Instead, he argued that thanks to “advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies,” it’s no longer necessary to “track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.”

As an example, Temkin pointed to a new approach being tested by Google called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which allows ads to be targeted at large groups of users based on common interests. He said Google will begin testing FLoCs with advertisers in the second quarter of this year.

Temkin pointed out that these changes are focused on third-party data and don’t affect the ability of publishers to track and target their own visitors: “We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has described FLoCs as “the opposite of privacy-preserving technology” and compared them to a “behavioral credit score.”

And while cookies seem to be on the way out across the industry, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating Google’s cookie plan over antitrust concerns, with critics suggesting that Google is using privacy as an excuse to increase its market power. (A similar criticism has been leveled against Apple over upcoming privacy changes in iOS.)

#advertising-tech, #alphabet, #cookies, #google, #policy

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Martech company Zeta Global raises $222.5M in debt

Zeta Global, the marketing technology company founded by David A. Steinberg and former Apple CEO John Sculley, is announcing an additional $222.5 million in new debt financing.

The company has gone down the debt route before — a Series F raised in 2017 combined $115 million funding with $25 million in debt. BofA Securities served as lead arranger and bookrunner for the new financing, with participation from Barclays, Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley Senior Funding.

“For this round, we were able to both refinance our debt and add in a large amount of capacity for current operations and future initiatives,” Steinberg (Zeta’s CEO) told me via email. “We were able to work with our syndicate to capture a low interest-rate and take advantage of the strong credit markets.”

The company emphasizes its data-driven approach to marketing, combining companies’ first-party data with artificial intelligence and what it says are more than 2.4 billion customer identifiers. Steinberg said this approach has only become more crucial, with 2020 delivering “a five-year acceleration” as brands face the challenge of “digitally transforming their business structure to be data-centric.”

“Zeta’s capabilities are helping marketers engage customers across the entire digital ecosystem more intelligently and efficiently, with individualized messages, offers, and content by way of our identity-based data and predictive AI,” Steinberg continued. “Our challenge is to continue to keep up with our customers’ needs and maintain our competitive advantage around data and AI.”

The company’s funding announcement notes that previous loans have been used to finance acquisitions and integrations, including commenting platform Disqus and machine learning-powered marketing platform Boomtrain. Asked whether this new debt will also be used for acquisitions, Steinberg said the company continues to “organically innovate,” with a focus on its customer data platform and connected TV capabilities.

Early Stage is the premiere ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, legal, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included in each for audience questions and discussion.

#advertising-tech, #enterprise, #funding, #fundings-exits, #startups, #zeta-global

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With $62.5M in debt financing, Road Runner Media puts digital ads behind commercial vehicles

If Southern California-based Road Runner Media succeeds, you’ll start seeing a lot more ads while you’re driving.

That’s because the startup is placing digital screens on the back of technicians’ vans, delivery vehicles, buses and other commercial vehicles. Those screens can show both ads and serve as a brake light — according to founder and chairman Randall Lanham, the brake light functionality is required if you’re putting a sign on the back of a vehicle.

“The way we look at it, we are a digital brake light,” Lanham said. Yes, the brake light is showing ads, but “the driver touching the brakes interrupts the ad.” (The sign can also indicate turns, reversing and emergency flashers. You can see a mock-up ad in the image above, and real footage in the video below.)

To pursue this idea, Lanham (who described himself as a “recovering attorney”) enlisted Chris Riley as CEO — Riley’s experience includes several years as CEO of PepsiCo Australia and New Zealand. And the company announced this week that it has secured $62.5 million in debt financing from Baseline Growth Capital.

The idea of putting ads on moving vehicles isn’t new. There are, of course, ads on the tops of taxis, and startups like Firefly are also putting digital signage on top of Ubers and Lyfts. But Riley said Road Runner’s ruggedized, high-resolution LCD screens are very different, due to their size, quality and placement.

“[Taxi-top ads] don’t have the color, the brilliance, the clarity,” he said. “We can run a true video ad on the screen.”

Riley also said the ads can be targeted based on GPS and time of day, and that the company eventually plans to add sensors to collect data on who’s actually seeing the ads.

As for concerns that these big, bright screens might distract drivers, Lanham argued they’re actually attracting driver’s eyes to exactly where they should be, and creating a brake light that’s much harder to ignore.

“Your eyes are affixed on the horizon, which is what the [Department of Transportation] wants — as opposed to on the floor or the radio or directly off to the left or right,” he said. “That’s where your safest driving occurs, when your eyes are up above the dashboard.”

In fact, Lanham said he’s “very passionate” about the company’s mission, which in his view will make roads safer, and is creating a platform that could also be used to spread public service messages.

“We have the ability to retrofit any vehicle and make it safer on the highways,” he added. “I really, truly believe that we will save lives, if we already haven’t.”

The company says it already has 150 screens live in Atlanta, Boulder, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, with plans to launch screens in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. in March.

 

#adtech, #advertising-tech, #baseline-growth-capital, #funding, #fundings-exits, #recent-funding, #road-runner-media, #startups, #tc

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Lob raises $50M for its direct mail platform

Lob is a startup promising to help businesses deliver physical mail more quickly and affordably, and with more personalization.

The company estimates that its platform has been used to deliver mail to one in two U.S. households. And today, it’s announcing that it has raised $50 million in Series C funding.

CEO Leore Avidar told me he founded Lob with Harry Zhang nearly a decade ago to “allow people to send mail programmatically.” Over time, the company has become increasingly focused on enterprise clients — its 8,500-plus customers include Twitter, Expedia and Oscar Health — although Avidar said it will always offer a product for small businesses as well.

Avidar explained that in a digital age, there are two main categories of physical mail that Lob continues to support for its customers. First, there’s mail sent for “a regulatory purpose, a compliance purpose” — in other words, mail that businesses are legally required to send in printed form. Second, there’s direct mail sent as marketing, which Avidar said many companies are rediscovering.

“Marketing as a whole is always trying to find a unique channel in order to make their customer aware of whatever their call to action is,” he said. “Right now, social is really expensive, Google AdWords is super expensive, with email you can easily unsubscribe. No one’s been paying attention to direct mail, and the prices don’t scale with supply and demand.”

Lob says that it can reduce the execution time on a direct mail campaign by 95%, from 90 days to less than a day. For the actual printing and delivery, it has built out a network of partners across the country. And other companies like PostPilot and Postalaytics are building on top of the Lob platform.

The startup has now raised $80 million in total funding. The new round was led by Y Combinator Continuity Fund — Lob participated in the YC accelerator and the Continuity Fund also led the startup’s previous funding.

Avidar said the company is planning to triple the amount of physical mail delivered through the platform this year, which means the round will allow it to continue expanding the Print Delivery Network, as well as increasing headcount to more than 260 employees.

“Lob is leading the digital transformation of direct mail, a business process used by every company on Earth that has remained virtually untouched by software,” said YC Managing Partner and Lob board member Ali Rowghani in a statement. “Lob’s platform delivers exceptional value to some of the world’s largest senders of direct mail by lowering cost and improving deliverability, tracking, reporting, and ROI. Even for the most sophisticated senders of direct mail, Lob’s API-driven product is vastly superior to legacy approaches.”

#advertising-tech, #funding, #fundings-exits, #lob, #y-combinator

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New Facebook ad campaign extols the benefits of personalized ads

Online advertising can be a “pretty dry topic,” as Facebook’s head of brand marketing Andrew Stirk acknowledged, but with a new campaign of its own, the social networking giant is looking to “bring to life how personalized ads level the playing field” for small businesses.

The Good Ideas Deserve To Be Found campaign will include TV, radio and digital advertising. Individual businesses will also be able to promote it using a new Instagram sticker and the #DeserveToBeFound hashtag on Facebook.

The campaign will highlight specific small businesses on Facebook, including bag and luggage company House of Takura, whose founder Annette Njau spoke about the benefits of digital advertising at a press event yesterday.

“What those platforms allow us to do is, they allow us to tell stories,” Njau said. “I can’t tell this story on TV, I can’t tell this story in a huge magazine because it costs money and I don’t know who will see it.”

These sentiments are similar to a campaign that Facebook launched last year in opposition to Apple’s upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, where apps will have to ask for permission before sharing user data for third-party ad targeting. In response, Facebook claimed that it was “standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” though the social network also pointed to these changes as one of the “more significant advertising headwinds” that it expects to face this year. (Apple’s Tim Cook, in contrast, has said that these changes provide consumers with the control that they’ve been asking for.)

When asked how this fits into the broader dispute with Apple, Stirk said that while Facebook has been publicly opposed to Apple’s changes, this campaign is part the company’s longer-term support for small business.

“There is a degree of urgency in the fact that … small businesses are hurting right now,” he said.

Head of Facebook Business Products Helen Ma added that this is “very much an extension of the work that we did on the product side at the very start of the COVID period,” which included the launch of the Businesses Nearby section and a #SupportSmallBusiness hashtag.

In addition to launching the campaign today, Facebook is announcing several product changes, including a simplified Ads Manager dashboard, new options for restaurants to provide more information about their dining experiences and more information about personalized ads in Facebook’s Business Resource hub and Instagram’s Professional Dashboard.

The company also said it will continue to waive fees on transactions through Checkouts on Shops through June 2021, and will do the same for fees collected on paid online events until August 2021 at the earliest.

#advertising-tech, #policy, #social

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