Google Threatens to Pull Search from Australia; ICO Resumes RTB Probe


In today's ExchangeWire news digest: Google threatens to withdraw their Search feature from Australia in response to the News Media Bargaining Code; the ICO resumes their investigation into RTB and the wider ad tech ecosystem; and NBC Universal announces their plan to close NBCSN by the end of 2021.


Google threatens to take Search out of Australia

Google has threatened to withdraw their search engine from Australia in an escalation of the firm’s battle against the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s (ACCC) News Media Bargaining Code.

The Alphabet Inc.-owned company has been an ardent opponent of the proposed bill, which will force large digital platforms to pay media outlets to publish their content, since it was first announced last year, with Google Australia’s managing director describing the Code as ‘unworkable’. Mel Silva announced the prospective removal of Search at a hearing last Friday (22nd January), where she warned that “if this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice by to stop making Google Search available in Australia”.

The threat follows a similar one made by fellow big tech platform Facebook just a few days earlier, when Australia MD Will Easton announced that the social media giant will cease investing in the country if the law is passed.

Australian authorities criticised Google’s response to the law, with prime minister Scott Morrison declaring that legislators would not bow and the lawmakers themselves accusing the search giant of “blackmail” and bullying.

With the consensus being that Google is seeking to nip any other countries’ plans to impose a similar law in the bud, the firm’s behaviour appears instead to be strengthening Australia’s resolve to set this precedent.


The ICO resumes investigation in RTB

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has announced that they will resume their investigation into real-time bidding (RTB) and the ad tech industry. The process, which has been the backbone of programmatic buying, has been under scrutiny over how it collects and handles consumer data.

The investigation was postponed in May last year in the wake of the Coronavirus crisis. In a blog post, ICO deputy commissioner Simon McDougall explained that “RTB can use people’s sensitive personal data to serve adverts and requires people’s explicit consent,” which, he asserts, is not currently being obtained. McDougall also wrote there is currently a lack of sufficient protection of the data collected via RTB.

The ICO will pick up on the investigation by conducting a series of audits, as well as a closer examination of the behaviour and role of data brokers within the ad tech landscape, revealed McDougall.

The resumption of the investigation reiterates the regulatory pressure on the industry to get its house in order when it comes to data protection. Having received the ire of many for some time, it remains to be seen how RTB will be shaped by the ICO’s probe.


NBC Universal to shutter NBCSN

NBC Universal has revealed plans to shutter its sports channel, NBCSN, by the end of this year. Announced last Friday (22nd January), the move will see some of the sports channel’s more prominent events divided amongst the network’s other properties.

In an internal memo, NBC Sports chairman Pete Bevacqua wrote that the network had “decided that the best strategic next step for our Sports Group and the entire Company is to wind down NBCSN completely, with key elements of NBCSN’s programming moving to USA Network and, in some cases, Peacock for 2022 and beyond.”

Extolling the decision, Bevacqua also asserted that the move “will make USA Network an extraordinarily powerful platform in the media marketplace, and gives our sports programming a significant audience boost.”

Acquired as part of Comcast’s purchase of NBC in 2011, NBCSN is currently available in 80.6 million US households. Whilst the network’s Golf and Olympic channels will reportedly be unaffected by the shutdown, coverage of NASCAR and National Hockey League events will move to USA Network. At this point, it’s unclear whether the network will continue to cover Premier League matches, having previously aired them via their Peacock streaming service.