Fifty's Simon Eaton on Google Topics; Sony; and Meta

On this week’s episode of TheMadTech Podcast, Simon Eaton, managing director, UK, Fifty, joins ExchangeWire’s Grace Dillon and Lindsay Rowntree to discuss the latest news in media, marketing, and commerce.


This week they cover:

- Google has announced plans to develop an alternative targeting system to their FLoC proposal, Topics. In an official blogpost published last month, Chrome product director for the Privacy Sandbox, Vinay Goel, says that Topics will work by selecting several topics that best reflect a user’s top interests in a week (based on their browsing history), and using these as the basis for delivering targeted ads. On websites that use the solution, Topics will select just three topics to share with the site and its advertising partners. In both instances, the topics are chosen within the browser without the use of external servers, and are deleted after three weeks. Google is also reportedly building controls to allow users to view the topics, remove any they dislike, or even disable the feature entirely. Goel asserts that Topics will provide greater transparency for users by enabling them to see and control what data is collected and how it is used, as well as greater security by excluding sensitive topics. 

Whilst some in the industry have called the change “a step in the right direction”, some commentators question how far the solution truly diverges from its predecessor or from traditional contextual targeting. Leading figures from the Secure Web Addressability Network (SWAN) and the Movement for an Open Web have accused Topics of having the same flaws as FLoC, with SWAN founding member James Rosewell and others arguing that the solution will entrench Google’s position as arbiter over how publishers’ data is shared and valued. Others seem more receptive to Topics: a senior executive at Quantcast says that the solution could benefit publishers who provide a good user experience and give “an edge” to news publishers thanks to its three-week expiry date, but concedes that the “vague” quality of the data could see publishers struggle to sell inventory. Others have pointed to Topics’ apparent emphasis on providing greater user control as cause for celebration, and another has said that the solution could increase publisher revenue by cutting out intermediaries.

Whilst Google has been firmly under the eye of several national and international regulators for alleged privacy and antitrust violations, no authority has yet chimed in on the development. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have been investigating the Alphabet-owned company’s Privacy Sandbox proposals since 2019, but have not made any specific comment regarding Topics. Rosewell has appealed for the CMA to issue an interim order to halt the development of Topics until it has been properly investigated.


- After Sony’s shares plummeted due to the announcement that Microsoft have bid to acquire Activision Blizzard in ​​an all-cash deal worth USD$68.7bn (~£50.91bn), the Japanese tech giant have announced they will buy Bungie in a deal worth USD$3.6bn (~£2.7bn). According to a blogpost, the Halo and Destiny creator will remain an independent publisher, working alongside Playstation Studios. Sony Interactive Entertainment will have access to Bungie’s expertise about live game services and technology, dramatically increasing their user reach. 

Kenichiro Yoshida, chairman, president, and CEO of Sony Group Corporation, commented, “Bungie has created and continues to evolve some of the world’s most beloved video game franchises and, by aligning its values with people’s desire to share gameplay experiences, they bring together millions of people around the world.” He adds, “as part of our Purpose to ‘fill the world with emotion, through the power of creativity and technology’, we will utilise the Sony Group’s diverse array of entertainment and technology assets to support further evolution of Bungie and its ability to create iconic worlds across multiple platforms and media.”

As of 31 January, when Sony announced the acquisition, their shares climbed 4.51% at market close.

The news may come as a blow to Microsoft as the US antitrust review of their acquisition will now be handled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), according to Bloomberg. The Justice Department replacement will investigate whether the merger, which has until June 2023 to be completed, will cause harm to competition down the line. 


- Meta, parent company to Facebook, has threatened to pull the platform from Europe altogether if it is no longer able to provide its US operations, data centres, and applications, with data about European users, reports iTWire.

Suggestions of withdrawing the platform came in the form of an SEC filing from Meta, over concerns that data-sharing restrictions would inhibit their business’ operations and revenue. The SEC follows changes to regulation concerning the sharing of data between Europe and the US, triggered by the EU’s Schrems II judgement in July 2020. Schrems II deemed that the Privacy Shield between the EU and US — an international agreement to ensure personal data exported from Europe to the US was adequately protected — was invalid. 

Meta is still able to share data between Europe and the US under Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs). In its SEC filing, however, Meta described SCCs as now also subject to new judicial scrutiny’, expressing that, without a concrete, GDPR-compliant replacement for the Privacy Shield, the company would be ‘unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe, which would materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.’ 

Since this story broke, Meta has downplayed threats of withdrawing Facebook from Europe. Speaking to iTWire, a Meta spokesperson advised, "We have absolutely no desire and no plans to withdraw from Europe, but the simple reality is that Meta, and many other businesses, organisations, and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate global services. Like other companies, we have followed European rules and rely on Standard Contractual Clauses, and appropriate data safeguards, to operate a global service. Fundamentally, businesses need clear, global rules to protect transatlantic data flows over the long term, and like more than 70 other companies across a wide range of industries, we are closely monitoring the potential impact on our European operations as these developments progress.”