According to eMarketer, time spent with media grew by nearly an hour in the US last year – most likely the impact of the pandemic and associated lockdowns. Whilst growth won’t be as fast over the next few years, time spent with digital media will still grow to well over 8 hours by 2023 largely at the expense of traditional formats – particularly TV.

Mobile is going to be a key driver of media time in the coming years, so Apple’s continued moves in privacy could have huge implications for those publishers trying to monetize their growingly engaged mobile audiences.

Apple ups ante on privacy

At their annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) Apple unveiled a number of key privacy-focused updates including a new “privacy report” enabling users to dive deep into when & what permissioned data has been used; hiding/blocking access to IPs, and a new VPN-like internet relay for iCloud Plus users.

The latter of those – ‘Private Relay’ – encrypts users’ internet traffic on Safari by routing it through 2 separate relays to obfuscate signals that could be used to identify a user (i.e. fingerprinting).  While one relay (maintained by Apple!) gives the user an anonymous IP address, the second is used to send the browsing query to the appropriate results.  The second relay will be managed by an outside party to prevent Apple from knowing both the user’s identity and what site they’re visiting.

Google is working on a similar offering they call Willful IP Blindness.  Whilst both Apple and Google’s approaches should render IP addresses useless as a fingerprinting mechanism to protect consumer data, it also gives them greater control over the tracking and ad landscape. Monetisation masquerading as Privacy?  By the time these changes get implemented we’ll also be closer to the deprecation of 3rd party cookies, putting further emphasis on identity for the open internet – 1st party cookies, universal IDs, cohorts or a mixture – so publishers and brands alike don’t have to rely on the walled gardens for monetisation and acquisition.

Google commits to level playing field

In a landmark legal case, Google has agreed to pay a $268m fine and make changes to its ad business in France.

“Under the terms of the settlement, Google promised to ensure that all buyers, including those using a non-Google DSP to bid into a publisher’s header bidding set-up, will get equal access to data related to the outcome of Ad Manager auctions.”

You can check out Google’s blog post on the changes they’re committing to here; ultimately there are 2 wins here. Firstly; granting equal access to data related to the outcome of Ad Manager auctions means publishers & marketers can continue to get a transparent view of their bidding, which combined with identity signals can allow them to optimise bidding strategies for better yields.  This seems like an obvious thing, but without that commitment from Google, they could have obfuscated such valuable information.  Google also committed to improve interoperability between GAM and third party ad servers, giving publishers control over their own pricing rules and negotiations with other SSPs.

Secondly; it’s important to stress that whilst the fine may mean very little financially to Google – they’ll make this money back in no time – it does signal a win for legislation forcing a change to Google.  If it’s happened here, given other ongoing investigations into Google’s business practices, what else could they be forced to change? One to watch.

Combining FLoC IDs with others?!

Since trials began in March, Google’s FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) has caused debate within the digital ecosystem – with some agreeing with the heightened privacy approach and some questioning whether privacy is actually the goal here and whether it can be as effective as Google say.  Whilst it may be positive to see a shift towards privacy, transparency and choice in our world, now ad tech firms are testing ways to connect FLoCs to other data then that original goal comes into question.  According to Digiday’s article, FLoCs could actually make it quicker and easier for companies to identify and access information about people.

Digiday spoke with a number of companies that are starting to combine FLoC IDs with existing identifiable profile information to access unique insights, and even suggested they could serve as persistent identifiers in the way IP addresses have.  There’s even suggestions that FLoC IDs could lower the barrier to companies gathering information about a user, giving publishers access to “a little package of information” on their very first visit to their website.

“If a tracker starts with your FLoC cohort, it only has to distinguish your browser from a few thousand others (rather than a few hundred million)”

Bennett Cyphers, staff technologist at EFF

A number of tests are going on to see what these IDs can reveal when combined with other signals.  For instance; seeing if those in FLoCs take certain actions compared to others; building out taxonomies for ad targeting that detect interests based on those IDs; and reverse-engineering them to inform contextual placements for users who don’t have FLoCs.

Other interesting reads

  • GroupM released adspend forecasts for UK and US – they expect ad spend to grow 12.4% and 22% in those respective markets with digital a key driver for both nearing 70% share of total media ad spend.
  • A MarketingWeek article about consumer choice evokes thoughts on the current challenges in getting user consent and how we can better educate users to make a more informed decision in order to maintain a fair value exchange in publishing.

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