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October 20, 2017
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Advertising Tech

Bipartisan bill seeks to regulate political ads on Facebook, Twitter and Google

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A new bipartisan bill known as the Honest Ads Act is the first major attempt to regulate online platforms that sell ads with rules akin to those that apply to more traditional advertising on TV, radio and in print.

The bill, introduced today by Democratic Senators Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar with a bipartisan boost from Republican Senator John McCain, imposes regulations on social platforms, websites, ad networks and other online entities with more than 50 million unique users per month.

As the bill’s announcement states:

“Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act would prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.”

Disclosures for ad financing would apply to any entity that purchases more than $500 in ads cumulatively across a platform, a fairly low threshold for disclosure that speaks to the potency of even small ad buys on platforms like Facebook. The bill would also place a “reasonable expectation” on social media companies to identify if the source of an ad buy is outside the U.S.

“There will always be a case where things can fall through the cracks. What we’re trying to here is start with a light touch,” Warner said. “We don’t want to slow down innovation on the internet, we don’t want to slow down technology.”

As the top Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee, Warner has had a front row seat to the revelations around Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

In their press conference announcing the bill, the senators noted that Google and Facebook command 85% on online political ads. “Who wouldn’t want to know if the ad appearing next to your story was being paid for by a foreign power?” Klobuchar asked.

Its creators hope that the bill can make its way through Congress before primary season begins, fending off or at least complicating further attempts by the Russian government to seed divisive political ads online.

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Warner admitted that while the bill is a good start, it will still be difficult to identify account that are “misrepresenting themselves” to conceal where the money comes from.

Calling the identity piece “much tougher,” Warner admits that he is “hoping that these platform companies come up with some ideas” for tracing and attributing political ad purchases.

Sen. Klobuchar noted that tech companies may not be enthusiastic about facing increased regulation, but they have become increasingly cooperative after their initial reticence to admit fault.

“Now the online companies, we’re working with them,” Klobuchar said. “I’m not going to tell you they support this bill right now. They have to realize that the world has changed, they have been selling ads and making money off of this system.”

Even as they skewered Facebook for being “dismissive” early on and Twitter for essentially copying Facebook’s homework in its report to Congress a few weeks ago, the lawmakers appeared hopeful that cooperation would only improve as the depth of Russian election interference becomes more widely understood.

In spite of that increasing cooperation, the senators suggested that voluntary adherence to Congressional guidelines would be an uneven solution at best.

“The problem is, it has to cover everyone — you can’t just have a few companies doing it voluntarily, it has to be in the laws,” Warner said.

“These companies rely on the trust of users,” he added. “It’s in their own self interest.”

Facebook, Twitter and Google are expected to appear in an open hearing before the House and Senate’s intelligence committees on November 1. Facebook and Twitter confirmed this week that they will not be sending high profile executives to the hearings, instead opting to be represented by their general counsels.

“I think that they got the message,” Warner said. “I think the real proof in the pudding will be ‘come to the hearing on November 1.’”

Featured Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE

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News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook Messenger lets games monetize with purchases and ads

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Facebook is finally giving developers a reason to build games for Messenger while also opening a new revenue stream for the chat app. After launching HTML5 ‘Instant Games’ inside Messenger like Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Words With Friends Frenzy in November 2016, today Facebook is allowing developers to add in-app purchases as well as interstitial and rewarded video ads. Players get a virtual good or bonus life in exchange for watching rewarded videos.

Facebook will take a cut of the ads shown in Messenger games that are routed from its Facebook Audience Network, and they’ll begin appearing in some games on iOS and Android. In-app purchases will only start testing on Android, with Google Play taking its standard 30% cut.

Facebook was cagey about how much of a cut of in-app purchase revenue it plans to take, repeatedly giving this vague statement when asked: “Our early tests for IAP will follow the standard rev/share policy and transaction fees for Google Play In-App billing.” For now it seems that the remaining 70% goes to the developer, but Facebook will likely opt to take a portion of that when in-app purchases fully roll out.

Developers who want access to the monetization beta program as Facebook rolls it out more widely can sign up here, while advertisers who don’t want their Audience Network ads from appearing in games can opt out. Facebook plans to roll out ad measurement and optimization tools for game developers soon, plus ways to publish games to its directory more easily.

The move should attract higher quality games to the Messenger platform, as until now, devs could only hope to build an audience and monetize down the line. Now with cash able to flow in through the games, it’s worth pouring more development resources into the platform. Previously, the only real way to earn money off these games was indirectly through branding, as with titles like Valerian Space Run, Wonder Woman, and Lego Batman Bat Climb that promote movies.

Facebook seems to be taking Messenger Instant Games quite seriously after its desktop game platform withered and mobile game was dominated by the App Store and Google Play platforms. Facebook sees an opportunity to not only give people something to do between chat conversations and a way to challenge freinds, but also now to start squeezing more cash out of the 1.3 billion Messenger users without interrupting the traditional use cases as its inbox ads do.

News Source = techcrunch.com

AdHawk acquires Automate Ads to improve Google and Facebook ad campaigns

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AdHawk is announcing that it has acquired one of its competitors, Y Combinator-backed Automate Ads.

Even if you weren’t a customer, Automate Ads may sound familiar because it was previously known as Kuhcoon, a social advertising startup co-founded by Andrew Torba, who has since been in the news for getting banned from the YC alumni network and for his social network Gab.ai, which has ties to the far-right.

So it’s worth stating this upfront: Torba is gone from Automate Ads. In fact, AdHawk co-founder and CEO Todd Saunders said that the company had basically shut down prior to the acquisition. And while Saunders saw value in the technology, no one from Automate Ads will be joining AdHawk. (CTO Charles Szymanski will be consulting during the transition.)

Saunders said that this could be just the beginning of more consolidation, both at AdHawk and across the industry, as  companies try to create broader digital advertising platforms.

In the case of Automate Ads and AdHawk (which was incubated at Techstars Boulder), both companies offer products for running Facebook and Google ad campaigns. But where AdHawk has focused on providing data to optimize existing campaigns, Automate’s tools help advertisers create those campaigns in the first place.

“For us, this moves AdHawk from a tool to a platform and allows us to service many more customers,” Saunders said. “We really believe that campaign creation should be done in a data-driven way, and with our optimization tool, we plan on infusing that into the … process.”

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The plan is to integrate AdHawk and Automate Ads into a single dashboard by the first quarter of 2018.

Featured Image: AdHawk

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitter introduces a new video-centric ad format

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 While there’s a larger debate swirling around Twitter’s problems with abuse and harassment, the business side of the business is still chugging along. Today, the company is unveiling a new ad format called the Video Website Card, which it describes as ” a creative format that combines the power of video with the ability to drive users back to a site to learn more or take… Read More

News Source = techcrunch.com

Microsoft’s Windows 10 breaches privacy law, says Dutch DPA

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The Dutch data protection authority has concluded that Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system breaches local privacy law on account of its collection of telemetry metadata. The OS has been available since the end of July 2015.

Personal data being harvested by default by Microsoft can include the URL of every website visited if the Windows 10 user is browsing the web with Microsoft’s Edge browser (and has not opted out of full telemetry), as well as data about usage of all installed apps on their device — including frequency of use; how often apps are active; and the amount of seconds usage of mouse, keyboard, pen or touchscreen.

Microsoft says it gathers and processes Windows 10 users’ data in order to fix errors, keep devices up-to-date and secure and improve its own products and services.

But if users have not opted out it also uses data from both a basic and full telemetry level to show personalised advertisements in Windows and Edge (including all apps for sale in the Windows store), and also for showing personalised advertisements in other apps.

According to the local DPA there are more than 4 million active devices using Windows 10 Home and Pro in the Netherlands.

No valid consent

After investigating several versions of the OS (including Windows 10 Home and Pro), the Dutch DPA said today it has identified multiple breaches of data protection law.

“Microsoft does not clearly inform users about the type of data it uses, and for which purpose. Also, people cannot provide valid consent for the processing of their personal data, because of the approach used by Microsoft. The company does not clearly inform users that it continuously collects personal data about the usage of apps and web surfing behaviour through its web browser Edge, when the default settings are used,” it writes.

“Due to Microsoft’s approach users lack control of their data. They are not informed which data are being used for what purpose, neither that based on these data, personalised advertisements and recommendations can be presented, if those users have not opted out from these default settings on installation or afterwards.”

“Microsoft offers users an overview of the categories of data that it collects through basic telemetry, but only informs people in a general way, with examples, about the categories of personal data it collects through full telemetry. The way Microsoft collects data at the full telemetry level is unpredictable. Microsoft can use the collected data for the various purposes, described in a very general way. Through this combination of purposes and the lack of transparency Microsoft cannot obtain a legal ground, such as consent,  for the processing of data,” it further writes.

“It turns out that Microsoft’s operating system follows about every step you take on your computer. That results in an intrusive profile of yourself,” adds Wilbert Tomesen, vice-chairman of the Dutch DPA, in a statement.  “What does that mean? Do people know about this, do they want this? Microsoft needs to give users a fair opportunity to decide about this themselves.”

The DPA goes on to state that: “Microsoft has indicated that it wants to end all violations,” and notes that “if this is not the case” it can decide to impose a sanction on the company — which could take the form of a financial penalty.

The company has already faced the threat of such a penalty in France, when in July 2016 the local watchdog CNIL gave it three months to fix privacy and security issues to come into compliance with French data protection law.

European data protection watchdogs have had privacy worries about Windows 10 as far back as 2016, after the press and others raised concerns about the extent of the data being gathered by default on Windows 10 soon after its launch.

Microsoft has made some privacy-related changes to the OS in light of the criticisms — adding a new privacy settings structure in the Windows 10 Creators Update, for instance.

However the Dutch DPA’s view is that that update has not ended the violations it found in its investigation.

In a blog post commenting on the Dutch DPA’s findings today, Microsoft said: “I want our customers to know that it is a priority for us that Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro are clearly compliant under Dutch law.”

It goes on to flag up various privacy-related changes it has made or is intending to make, writing: “This year we have released a new privacy dashboard and several new privacy features to provide clear choices to our customers and easy-to-use tools in Windows 10. Next week, we have even more privacy improvements coming in the Fall Creators Update.”

“We welcome the opportunity to continue to work with the Dutch DPA on their comments related to Windows 10 Home and Pro, and we will continue to cooperate with the DPA to find appropriate solutions,” it added.

However the company is also disputing the Dutch DPA’s findings — and says it has shared “specific concerns” with the watchdog about the “accuracy of some of its findings and conclusions”.

It has compiled a point-by-point rebuttal on these points of disagreement here.

For example Microsoft disagrees with the Dutch DPA that it “does not clearly inform users about the type of data it uses, and for which purpose” — because it says Windows 10 users “can learn about their privacy choices and controls”, going on to flag various other means by which it says users can “learn”, such as via its Privacy Choice Screen, or via “Learn more documents” or via the “Microsoft Privacy Statement” or via “blogs and other documentation we publish”.

However the DPA’s point is about clearly informing users what personal data Microsoft is gathered for what purposes. Whereas Microsoft is essentially saying that Windows 10 users should make the effort to learn about that stuff themselves — by navigating a number of different data sources (and in some instances pro-actively locating relevant information on one of Microsoft’s myriad webpage, such as its Windows IT Pro site, themselves).

It remains to be seen how impressed the Dutch DPA will be with those kind of arguments.

Next year a new data protection framework (GDPR) comes into force across Europe which further tightens the rules around obtaining consent from data subjects for processing their personal data — requiring that consent be “specific, granular, clear, prominent, opt-in, properly documented and easily withdrawn”, as the UK watchdog puts it.

The Dutch DPA’s assertion here, with Windows 10, is that Microsoft is failing to obtain “valid consent for the processing of [people’s] personal data” under current EU DP law — pointing out that, for example, it uses “opt-out options” so does not obtain “unambiguous consent”.

It further notes: “If  a person does not actively change the default settings during installation, it does not mean he or she thereby gives consent for the use of his or her personal data.”

And, in the EU at least, the consent bar for processing personal data is only going to step up. So Microsoft may well need to make rather more substantial changes to how Windows 10 goes about sucking up users’ metadata in the coming months.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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