More Antitrust Suits in the Wings

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This Week
December 01, 2020
More Antitrust Suits Flying In
Another Day, Another ID
Facebook's Latest Measurement Mea Culpa
More Antitrust Suits in the Wings
If you’ve recovered from your disenchantment following the release of the Department of Justice’s antitrust suit against Google, GOOD NEWS! The Wall Street Journal reports that federal and state authorities are preparing to file as many as four (!!!) more antitrust suits against Google or Facebook by the end of January.

Most notable is the Federal Trade Commission’s impending suit against Facebook, which apparently is being held up because the FTC is not sure if it wants to file in district court or its own administrative court. A separate coalition of state attorneys general may pile on in early December with their own suit or a joint filing.

As for Google, it seems a different coalition of state attorneys general is building its suit based on the company’s ad tech business, which of course will be of high interest to publishers. The squeamish factor here is that this coalition is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been accused of numerous ethics violations. (Intriguingly, Paxton is also involved in the federal case based on Google’s search business.)
Why This Matters
Forgive us for suffering from a bit of antitrust fatigue. Let’s compare it to a highly anticipated blockbuster, maybe a beloved literary adaptation. At first you’re skeptical, but intrigued. And then a pretty good director gets behind the helm, and the casting announcements are surprisingly on point, and you find yourself getting excited despite your cynicism.

Then the first trailer drops and… Yeah, it’s awful. The costumes are hideous, the sets look like cardboard, the acting would be shunned from community theater, the special effects nearly make you laugh, and they use that Inception foghorn sound effect that was tired back in 2015. Your enthusiasm drops to below zero, and you find yourself a little more depressed every time you hear some mention of the cursed film.

Still, when it’s released, you drag yourself to the movie theater (remember when people used to do that?), plop out the $50 bucks for a ticket, eat an entire bucket of popcorn during the 30 minutes of previews, and find you’re not completely disappointed by the actual movie.

(Note: we are not subtly dissing the upcoming Dune adaptation, because that trailer was AWESOME.)

We’ve spilled some digital ink on the potential Facebook suit, which will most likely seek to split Facebook and Instagram. But there’s much more about the Google situation that’s unknown.

We know the FTC was in talks with Facebook to try to stave off an antitrust suit, but it seems an FB-Insta split is the only thing that will placate the government. Depending on the strength of the state AGs’ case—and whether the feds amend their case to include the ad tech business— Google could be pressured to sell or spin off parts of its ad tech business. A sacrifice pawn for Queen government? (Yes, we’re also hooked on The Queen’s Gambit.)

It may seem far-fetched, but five years ago the idea of Google facing three antitrust cases from states and the feds seemed like something you’d hear about at tinfoil hat conventions. Strange days have found us; strange days have tracked us down.
Another Day, Another ID
Thinking about picking up a universal ID this holiday season? Well, now you have another option—Verizon Media has just launched its unified ConnectID. In a press release, the company boasts a base of 900 million global users across its more than 30 brands, which typically have engaged, logged-in users—think Yahoo, AOL, and TechCrunch (but not HuffPo much longer).

The release goes on to further say that “Verizon Media’s Identity Graph is built on deterministic data from direct consumer relationships across a range of omnichannel, cross-screen touchpoints, like mobile app, search, owned and operated sites and apps, email and more.” Yup, there’s a lot of more...
Why This Matters
Who doesn’t have a universal ID these days, amirite? Well, Verizon Media’s play is interesting because it’s part of a giant internet service provider, and we’ve been wondering when an ISP would get its act together and take advantage of stripped-away broadband privacy protections (thank you, Congress). Most identity graphs are fueled with third-party data—Verizon doesn’t need that. It’s a data universe in itself.

So does that mean Verizon will dominate the identity space? Well, the user base is fantastic, but the content pool is very limited—Verizon is going to have to get in bed with a lot of other publishers if it wants to hit the scale advertisers demand… Or hook up with other ID providers. Can Verizon play nicely with others?
Will Facebook’s Measurement Mea Culpa Satisfy Advertisers?
'Tis the season for giving and Facebook is handing out well-deserved credits—in the millions—to advertisers for misrepresenting the efficacy of FB’s platforms for driving consumer actions.

For the past year, a glitch in Facebook’s “conversion lift” tool, which measures campaign effectiveness in driving purchases or downloads, led advertisers to believe that their campaigns were overperforming. Of course, this resulted in advertisers throwing even more money into the social network.

That was great news for Facebook, but it turns out it extremely terrible news for advertisers. Let’s not even get started on why it took an entire year—August 2019 to August 2020—for the error to be picked up. Facebook made a fix to the tool in September, but it wasn’t until this month that they alerted advertisers, according to AdExchanger.

This isn’t the first time that Facebook’s tech had major issues with measuring advertisers’ campaigns. In 2016, a two-year problem with measuring total time people spent viewing video ads was uncovered. And in 2017, a study found that FB claimed to reach more people than actually existed in the UK, US, and other countries.
Why This Matters
Will advertisers continue to partner with Facebook? Given that Facebook’s YOY growth for Q3 was 22%—even in the time of Corona—the proof is in the pudding.

While this news is certain to lower advertiser confidence in Facebook’s ability to deliver results, with the holiday season upon us, and small-and-medium-sized businesses counting on Facebook and Instagram to ring up sales, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be pulling out their spend anytime soon. It’s been a rough year for a lot of ecommerce categories, so this season is the perfect time for them to recoup some of those losses. In other words, they’ll be ready to gobble all of those advertising credits up.

Large-sized companies, like the ones who boycotted over the summer, may have other options for reaching consumers, but for SMBs and DTCs there’s really been no other game in town. At least not until publishers on the open web either beef up their first-party data strategies to prove performance or start implementing self-service platforms to capture some of that elusive spend.

Until then, it seems the song will remain the same.
Sweet Tweet
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai will step down on January 20. This shift in power likely means that Trump’s nastygram to social media platforms will remain just another act in his political theater.
Worth a Listen
Julia Beizer on Building Product at Bloomberg Media
Julia Beizer is Chief Product Officer and Global Head of Digital at Bloomberg Media. While Bloomberg is primarily known for its terminals, the digital team has built a robust media operation that has now added hundreds of thousands of paying subscribers. To learn more, register for AdMonsters PubForum+ to hear Beizer's Thursday, Dec. 10 Keynote: Oh, the Places We'll Monetize—Next Frontiers for Revenue and Product.
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