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Opinion: The writing is on the wall(ed garden)

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Two different articles were published recently about Facebook:  one somewhat positive, the other clearly negative. Both demonstrate why so many businesses simply don’t – or shouldn’t – trust Facebook.

Facebook‘s removal of Onavo Protect, a VPN (Virtual Private Network) app, was due to the fact that (wait for it…) Facebook was secretly recording everything sent through this app. “Through the app, Facebook was able to analyze users’ internet activities beyond Facebook… ” according to The Independent.

It seems that Facebook does the right thing only when it has been caught (in this case by Apple) and it can’t wriggle its way out.  It took two months of negotiations between Apple and Facebook before Facebook removed the app. The Cambridge Analytica debacle brought to the general zeitgeist the realization of just how prevalent data sharing has become. In reality these problems are primarily caused by bad actors, but unfortunately, one of those bad actors is the largest social media company in the world — and one of the largest sellers of internet advertising in the world.

What bothers me as an ad tech insider is the willingness of brands and their agencies to continue to put more and more money in Facebook’s coffers without demanding appropriate and prudent change.

I am certainly not the first to identify the Facebook problem, particularly given that Facebook has scored as the ‘‘Least Trusted Major Tech Company’. What bothers me as an ad tech insider is the willingness of brands and their agencies to continue to put more and more money in Facebook’s coffers without demanding appropriate and prudent change.

Yes, Facebook has the reach and audience targeting data that makes marketers drool, but I predict that a major brand is going to get caught, fait accompli, when a campaign on Facebook leverages Facebook users’ just too far to be explained away by clever PR.

As GDPR continues to impact publishers and tech companies, and the California Consumer Privacy Act moves towards deployment, we together are waking up to the fact that efforts at self-regulation have failed. No surprise, given that every ad tech and martech company is focussed on maximizing their own revenues and profits.

The fattened golden goose is going to slaughter sooner than we think. For example, recent news regarding Index Exchange’s behavior should not come as a surprise. I suspect Index Exchange’s behavior is no worse – and possibly better than – other exchanges. Nonetheless, the mentality pervasive throughout the ad tech industry is simply self-serving. Every company is a black box, as it must be to stay competitive but basic disregard for thinking exclusively about maximizing revenue for the next five minutes is going to lead to a reshuffling of the ad tech ecosystem and likely a strong over-reaction from governments.

I don’t have a magic bullet. In some ways we all know that the only answer is transparency, but while companies continue to complain about corporate behavior, no one really wants the music to stop (or even change). However, if innovation is going to continue to drive this industry some actions are clear.   

Major brands and their agencies need to take bold actions required to curb this clearly bad behavior, playing their parts in changing the modus operandi, or each will fall victim to their own scandals and each be responsible for the punitive actions by which the entire industry will suffer. The IAB has to migrate from constantly searching for middle ground, which leads to limited leadership and weak standards. The ongoing M&A activity will create best practices from the publicly traded acquirers, and hopefully other companies will follow their examples.

Jonathan Shaevitz, President, Industry Index  @jshaevitz

Republished courtesy of Industry Index, who tracks the MarTech & AdTech ecosystem with monitoring and insights tools for data leakage, tech usage, and publisher ad ops.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash