In Defense of the Privacy Sandbox

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This Week
February 16, 2021
Google's Privacy Engineer Defends Sandbox
Ads for Weapons Spike Around the Capitol Riots
Big Tech Finally Paying Pubs For Content?
Clubhouse Craze
Google Engineer Defends Privacy Sandbox Plans
While the imminent death of third-party cookies has not been exaggerated, Google’s proposed suite of privacy-minded tools for advertisers, dubbed “The Privacy Sandbox,” has been met with many raised eyebrows from pubs.

Now, Lara O’Reilly’s new Business Insider interview with Google Chrome security and privacy engineering director Justin Schuh, who is overseeing the Privacy Sandbox project, has reignited questions as to whether or not the Big G’s plans will give pubs a fair chance to frolic in their walled garden.

Schuh begins to answer a question about whether or not Google is taking industry consensus into account before building out features by deflecting his answer onto the W3C, then picking apart the word ‘consensus’ by stating that “the web is a very complicated place with many players.”

When the interviewer points out a common industry objection that the current Sandbox proposals “seem to reduce everyone's ability but Google to give advertisers an equivalent of what they have today,” Schuh acknowledges that he can’t speak from Ads perspective, but understands the concerns. He also says that, because many details haven’t been sorted out yet, people often assume the worst.

Other highlights include Schuh’s acknowledgment that there is no timeline for bringing Sandbox-like tools to Android, no timeline for bringing FLoC to YouTube or Search, and that user controls are still “in the iterative design stages.”
Why This Matters
It’s unclear whether this interview actually helped change anyone’s mind in the industry. For one, we’ve long wondered whether the W3C actually serves the interest of smaller companies and organizations, and Schuh’s deflection onto the W3C doesn’t exactly fill us with confidence, either. We also recently wrote about the scrutiny over Google’s claims that FLoC, which will begin testing in March, is nearly as effective as third-party cookies.

On Twitter, the industry praised O’Reilly for asking tough questions, while picking apart some of Schuh’s claims and generally noting how dodgy he was:

Diarmuid ·Feb 12 Nice interview @larakiara. Have you seen any concrete data to back up the assertion that FLOC can match the 95% figure quoted?

Eric Seufert Feb 12 Replying to @diarmuidg @larakiara and @justinschuh Google made that claim, but it was on simulated usage, not real usage

While the CMA continues its investigation over the proposed Privacy Sandbox in the UK, a spokesperson for Marketers for an Open Web (MOW) said that Google’s proposals hurt independent media owners, independent ad tech, and advertisers in general. They stated that smaller local and independent pubs will be hit hardest by the Sandbox, as it will cut them out of the open online ad marketplace.
Ads for Weapons Spike Around the Capitol Riots
January saw a 15% spike in inflammatory ads — including grenade launchers, guns, knives and bulletproof vests — showing up on comScore 50 pubs. In the wake of The Capitol riot on Jan. 6, this spike was driven by opportunistic advertisers in the retail and digitally-printed spaces quickly turning around new products that capitalize on the tense social climate, along with the slumping open prog markets in Q1.

Something similar happened to eBay over the past month, as holes in its keyword block list allowed many retailers to list gun parts branded with far right nationalist logos and phrases — and were promoted on the site’s ad platform. This incident highlights the fact that sellers on eBay do not provide the platform with keywords before registering a promoted listing.
Why This Matters
This bummer of a trend highlights the fact that pubs are truly in a tight spot right now. On the one hand, they don’t want politically-loaded creative tainting their brand image and alienating certain users. On the other hand, most truly need to take any rev they can get right now. Finding that balance is tricky, especially in a buyer’s market.

Ad teams will want to work together with Editorial, Marketing, Legal and Social to construct a policy that defines exactly when creative goes too far. It’s a tough conversation that should take into account your audience, your brand voice, and consider all stakeholders that a questionable ad might adversely affect.

Once those policies are written, updating them regularly is the move. Revisiting and revising them a quarterly schedule — or more frequently, depending on the news of the week — will ultimately pay off in the long run.

What’s more, pubs will need to make sure that their demand partners are hip to these policies, and willing to comply with them, in order to make sure that the brand is protected.
Big Tech Finally Paying Pubs For Content?
Australia is really close to adopting legislation that would require Google and Facebook to pay pubs in the country for the distribution of their news on those platforms. Ahead of the new law going into effect, Google has already reached an agreement with Seven West Media, reportedly worth $23 million per year. In the past Facebook and Google threatened to leave Australia altogether, arguing that the money they made there was merely a drop in the bucket. So, we're wondering why the sudden change of heart?
Why This Matters
Microsoft President Brad Smith has come out in defense of pubs, not only in Australia but he's also suggested that Google, Facebook and other platforms should compensate news outlets in the United States, Canada, the European Union for their content. Interestingly, Microsoft had a serious stake in the matter, as the tech behemoth was patiently waiting in the wings to serve as a distribution partner to pubs should Google have jumped ship.

As we've said before, what happens in Australia could have a significant bearing on what happens in the US. It's worth noting, these giant tech platforms wouldn't even have the reach they do today if it wasn't for publisher content driving traffic to them.
Clubhouse Craze
Last week, new social media darling, Clubhouse was all the rage with many a media outlet giving it some digital ink. There was some speculation as to whether the audio chat service has the ability to turn all of its hype into legit revenue. Quartz asked, "Can Clubhouse cash in?" NPR called it social media's future. And an Entrepreneur contributor wrote a listicle (and user guide) about why the service was a gold mine for marketers and entrepreneurs.

The two articles we paid most attention to though, were Sara Fischer's Axios piece which thoroughly laid out what's being dubbed the pandemic audio boom, and The New York Times' examination of Facebook's supposed launch of a Clubhouse clone product. Remember how Facebook turned IG into Snapchat?
Why This Matters
For sure, the pandemic is driving the growth of audio. eMarketer predicts that podcast ad revenue will surpass radio and reach $1 billi this year. It's interesting that most people don't remember how long podcasting has been around. We can take it back to the early aughts for an unofficial history lesson of podcasting. That would make it 20 years+ in the making of any sort of real mainstream traction building up. Basically, these social networks don't turn into multibillion-dollar businesses overnight.

For instance, the idea of a group chat or chat rooms is not a novel one. If you're old school, you might remember that was something you could do in Orkut back in the day. (We'll save you the examples prior to Orkut to not date ourselves.) And if you're new school (and perhaps a gamer) then you know that Discord has been around a few years, enabling gamers to come together in channels to chat about specific games or game-related topics. Even Telegram has Discord-like features now.

The thing is, Clubhouse just makes it so damn simple to sign up, meet new people, and create mini webinars or podcasts on the spot. This has become the thing, especially since we're living in a time when everyone is locked in. But it's still going to be a few years out before a service like Clubhouse moves from being a thing with early adopters and media/ marketing folk out to the majority. And will it be as relevant once people start going outside again and actually meeting with people face-to-face?

For now, we'll take the contrarian view, right along with CafeMedia's Paul Bannister, who tweeted: "Unpopular take: audio-based media will always be a shadow of video. Clubhouse may be cool but it's not some enormous thing." 
Sweet Tweet
Clubhouse is this incredible new platform that somehow combines the worst LinkedIn hustle porn with Sirius XM
Worth a Listen
Changes In Exchanges
It's big M&A time in Ad Tech. AdExchanger's The Big Story explores the strategies and rationale behind some of the latest deals, including Magnite's acquisition of SpotX for $1.17 billion, as well as the merger between District M and Sharethrough.
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