In this weekly segment, ExchangeWire sums up key industry updates in ad tech from around the globe. In this edition: Google threatens to withdraw Search from Australia over the News Media Bargaining Code row; the IPA forecasts eventual ad spend recovery in their Q4 2020 Bellwether Report; the head of the ICO reveals that a private agreement between her office and Facebook prevents her from revealing the platform's response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal; and Apple reveals that IDFA changes will take effect in "early 2021".
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 IPA Bellwether Report for the final quarter of 2020 has concluded that the UK ad industry will make a gradual recovery after Coronavirus. The report, published last Thursday (21st January), found that ad spend is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in the 2021/2022 financial year, with marketers still resorting to cost-cutting to manage the crisis.
From its research, the report discovered that only 16.4% of participating marketers had invested more funds into ad spend. Meanwhile, 40.4% reported receiving less funding for ad spend, a still alarming amount despite being lower than the 50.7% in Q2 and 41% in Q3.
Whilst the pessimism of Bellwethers past largely lives on in the Q4 report, there were some positive notes. Although respondents tended to feel more confident about the finances of their own companies, the report found that pent-up consumer demand in conjunction with ongoing vaccination efforts would see ad spend make a ‘robust’ recovery in 2021.
Commenting on the findings, IPA director general Paul Bainsfair said that whilst the pandemic and Brexit disruption make for grim reading, there is hope on the horizon. “Budget plans for 2021/2022 are into positive territory. As the vaccination roll-out continues, as the lockdowns begin to ease and as firms adapt to post-Brexit rules, perhaps we can dare to ready ourselves for the roaring twenties after all.”
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reached a secret agreement with Facebook that bars the regulatory body from disclosing whether or not the platform approached the ICO regarding an ‘app audit’.
The revelation came on Tuesday (26th January) when head of the ICO Elizabeth Denham told a parliamentary subcommittee on online harms and disinformation that “there’s an agreement that’s not in the public domain” between the watchdog and the social media giant. As such, the commissioner maintained that she could not reveal whether the firm had contacted her office to discuss a probe of its app, an action CEO Mark Zuckerberg had pledged to complete in the height of the 2017 Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Whilst the tech behemoth did pay a £500,000 fine delivered by the ICO over the affair, which saw the consulting firm gain access to the data of millions of Facebook users without their consent, the US-based platform did not accept responsibility for it. Instead, the firm appealed, and received the backing of a first-tier legal tribunal which concluded that “procedural fairness and allegations of bias” levied at the ICO should be acknowledged. This, as TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas suggests, likely spurred the regulator to settle the matter privately with Facebook.
Giving Facebook the right to “retain documents disclosed by the ICO during the appeal for other purposes, including furthering its own investigation into issues surrounding Cambridge Analytica”, the agreement has once again given Facebook the upper hand over regulators.
Apple has revealed that the privacy changes to their Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) will come into effect alongside the company’s next beta software release. The announcement, made on Wednesday (27th January), is in line with the firm’s previous claims that the changes would take place in “early 2021”
The update, which will see the implementation of what Apple dubs an App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework, will give users more control over who they share their data with. ATT will require every app to explicitly ask iOS users for permission to collect their information, and to outline what data would be collected and what it would be used for.
The update corresponds with Apple’s culture of privacy as sacrosanct, and reflects the heightened pressure tech firms are facing from regulators to make users aware of how their information is being used. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, said that ATT is part of the company’s aim “to create technology that keeps people’s information safe and protected. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and our teams work every day to embed it in everything we make.”
Naturally, the update is set to make it more difficult to target app users with specific advertising. Advertisers have scrambled to prepare for the change since it was announced last year, with some yet to find a way to adapt.