The Deep Dive
ACCC Digital Platforms update: Government's response slated for December 15? Concerns rise over bundled tech stacks
"A lot of marketers and agencies are freaking out about the effects of privacy regulations. They've already started to retreat back into the Google and Facebook stacks."
A few weeks back Google’s global head of news, Richard Gingras, was in town and along with his counterparts at Facebook, some observers say the tech maestros are orchestrating some last-mile lobbying with the federal government before it delivers its response to the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry.
The feds are giving little away, even in Canberra’s whispering corridors, but some say there is a more than a little tech-style sledging of the ACCC going on. In politics it’s called a wedge.
The ACCC’s landmark case taking on Google for misleading consumers on location tracking is, as the AFR covered comprehensively last week, a landmark case. And it’s not about privacy. This case is about the ACCC using consumer law to corner Google on misleading and deceptive conduct. Consumer protection laws are broader and have far more bite than today’s ambiguous privacy legislation.
The ACCC wants Google’s scalp and it’s taking a road less travelled to do it. Did Google obtain user data without informed user consent or understanding? The ACCC wants the case heard as misleading and deceptive conduct rather than breaches of the Privacy Act. The fines are much, much bigger and the scope to finally nail a tech whack-a-mole is much greater. This one will be fascinating.
Still, you’ve got to admire the tech platforms' swagger. Just days after the ACCC launched its case, Google was taking out analogue ads in newspapers unashamedly spruiking its apparently unblemished user privacy credentials: “Turn it on. Turn it off. You control what data gets saved. We keep your data private, safe and secure,” proclaimed the ad in The Australian. Yeah. So private and safe marketers and agencies line-up for Google's bundled tech stack largesse and inhale its user data emissions.
Meanwhile, Facebook after years of pillaging professional content is begrudgingly, after much criticism and a 600-page ACCC report, giving the entire Australian media sector an estimated $10m handout for new content initiatives. It would be funny if not for desperate media companies gratefully taking back a little of what Facebook’s has nicked.
"I don't think it is getting much worse because how much worse can it get? Australia is a Google market. Every agency has DV360 as their preferred DSP, except GroupM. Every agency has Google AdManager as their adserver, most clients...use the Google stack as their core tool. The dominance is real."
Facebook’s timing, like Google, is about optics and cheap tricks before policymakers make their big decisions next month. But these optical illusions are only part of the intensity building into December and the government’s Digital Platforms response.
Many, like Aaron Jackson, managing director, International of data firm Eyeota, says concerns around what GDPR and privacy compliance means for Australian business has seen marketers and agencies retreat back into the Google and Facebook tech stacks to reduce compliance, resource, costs and complexity.
“There’s a lot of conversation in the market that a lot of marketers will just take the full Google stack or another partner like that because it gives them efficiency, it gives them a full solution where they can achieve everything they want,” says Jackson. “That trend has already been happening and so anything to do with these privacy regulations that we’re talking about today, the ACCC will most likely influence that even more.”
But one online publisher argues there’s not too much to lose – Google all but dominates in adserving, ad exchanges, Demand Side Platforms, Search and online video via YouTube
"I don't think it is getting much worse because how much worse can it get?” says the publisher. “Australia is a Google market. Every agency has DV360 as their preferred DSP, except GroupM. Every agency has Google AdManager as their ad server, most clients which have in-house programmatic use the Google stack as their core tool. Google controls search and online video and bundles all it up with their tools. The dominance is real."
"For a long time, before GDPR, we talked about publishers' ability to work together in an environment that makes sense - they can trade data and inventory that’s not necessarily inside the Google stack."
It’s why the federal government's course of action on the ACCC’s proposed adtech review will be telling. Bundled online ad technologies like ad serving, ad exchanges and demand-side platforms are dominated by Google to the extent it’s too hard, or costly, for most to run with alternatives.
These arguments are also the basis for most of the US Department of Justice’s antitrust inquiries at present and another wide ranging US antitrust probe by dozens of State Attorneys General who are joining forces.
In defence of the tech sector, it must chuckle at the myopia of their rivals in media. Few of the old guard can get over their individual right to repeatedly reinvent the wheel to compete and fail against tech. Big powerful publisher alliances have been proposed and developed for years but most fall over. As we’ve seen in the past year or two, media companies would sooner collaborate and be outplayed by tech companies than align with companies in their own sector. The media elephants are eating themselves, one bite at a time.
“For a long time, before GDPR, we talked about publisher’s ability to work together in an environment that makes sense - they can trade data and inventory that’s not necessarily inside the Google stack,” says Jackson. “The real opportunity comes from publishers to work together in an open and transparent environment. If you go back years to print, the most important thing to a print company was your mailing list. It was one thing that never, ever left the doors. Digital has really turned that on its head. There’s a real opportunity for publishers to work together in a co-op environment that can sit outside those tech walled gardens.”
Good thinking but ego, to date, has won over common sense. Let’s see what the government does next month.