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March 26, 2019
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Google removed 2.3B bad ads, 1.5M bad apps and 28M bad pages, plans new Policy Manager this year

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Google is a tech powerhouse in many categories, including advertising. Today, as part of its efforts to improve how that ad business works, it provided an annual update that details the progress it’s made to shut down some of the more nefarious aspects of it.

Using both manual reviews and machine learning, in 2018, Google said removed 2.3 billion “bad ads” that violated its policies, which at their most general forbid ads that mislead or exploit vulnerable people. Along with that, Google has been tackling the other side of the “bad ads” conundrum: pinpointing and shutting down sites that violate policies and also profit from using its ad network: Google said it removed 1.5 million apps and nearly 28 million pages that violated publisher policies.

On the more proactive side, the company said today that it is introducing a new Ad Policy Manager in April to give tips to publishers to avoid listing non-compliant ads in the first place.

Google’s ad machine makes billions for the company — more than $32 billion in the previous quarter, accounting for 83 percent of all Google’s revenues. Those revenues underpin a variety of wildly popular, free services such as Gmail, YouTube, Android and of course its search engine — but there is undoubtedly a dark side, too: bad ads that slip past the algorithms and mislead or exploit vulnerable people, and sites that exploit Google’s ad network by using it to fund the spread of misleading information.

Notably, Google’s 2.3 billion figure is nearly 1 billion less ads than it removed last year for policy violations. The lower numbers might be attributed to two things. First, while the ad business continues to grow, that growth has been slowing just a little in competition with other players like Facebook and Amazon. Second — and this one gives the benefit of the doubt to Google — you could argue that it has improved its ability to track and stop these ads before they make their way to its network. (The more cynical question is whether Google removed less to improve its bottom line.)

Google’s director of sustainable ads, Scott Spencer, highlighted ads removed from several specific categories this year: there were nearly 207,000 ads for ticket resellers, 531,000 ads for bail bonds and 58.8 million phishing ads taken out of the network.

Part of this was based on the company identifying and going after some of these areas, either on its own steam or because of public pressure. In one case, for ads for drug rehab clinics, the company removed all ads for these after an expose, before reintroducing them again a year later. Some 31 new policies were added in the last year to cover more categories of suspicious ads, Spencer said. One of these included cryptocurrencies: it will be interesting to see how and if this one becomes a more prominent part of the mix in the years ahead. 

Because ads are like the proverbial trees falling in the forest — you have to be there to hear the sound — Google is also continuing its efforts to identify bad apps and sites that are hosting ads from its network (both the good and bad).

On the website front, it also created 330 “detection classifiers” to seek out specific pages that are violating policies. Google’s focus on page granularity is part of a bigger effort it has made to add more granular tools overall to its network — it also introduced page-level “auto-ads” last year — so this is about better housekeeping as it works on ways to expand its advertising business. The efforts to use this to ID “badness” at page level led Google to shutting down 734,000 publishers and app developers, removing ads from 1.5 million apps and 28 million pages that violated policies.

Fake news also continues to get a name check in Google’s efforts. The focus for both Google and Facebook in the last year has been around how its networks are used to manipulate democratic processes. No surprise there: this is an area where they have been heavily scrutinised by governments. The risk is that, if they do not demonstrate that they are not lazily allowing dodgy political ads on their network — because after all they still represent ad revenues — they might find themselves in regulatory hot water, with more policies being enforced from the outside to curb their operations.

This past year, Google said that it verified 143,000 election ads in the US — it didn’t note how many it banned — and started to provide new data to people about who is really behind these ads. The same will be launched in the EU and India this year ahead of elections in those regions.

The new policies it’s introducing to improve the range of sites it indexes and helps people find are also taking shape. Some 1.2 million pages, 22,000 apps and 15,000 sites were removed from its ad network for violating policies as misrepresentative, hateful or other low-quality content. These included 74,000 pages and 190,000 ads that violated its “dangerous or derogatory” content policy.

Looking ahead, the tool that Google announced it would be launching next month is a self-help tool for advertisers: using machine learning, Google will scan ads before they are uploaded to the network to determine whether they violate any policies. It will at launch look at ads, keywords and extensions across a publisher’s account (not just the ad itself).

Over time, Google said, it will also give tips to the publishers in real time to help fix them if there are problems, along with a history of appeals and certifications.

This sounds like a great idea for ad publishers who are not in the market for peddling iffy content: more communication and quick responses are what they want so that if they do have issues, they can fix them and get the ads out the door. (And that, of course, will also help Google by ushering in more inventory, faster and with less human involvement.)

More worrying is how this might get misused by bad actors. As malicious hacking has show us, creating screens sometimes also creates a way for malicious people to figure out loopholes for bypassing them.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Twitter launches its first podcast, ‘Character Count,’ focused on its ad business

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Twitter today is joining the podcasting arena. This morning, the social network is launching its first-ever podcast series with a new show focused on Twitter’s advertising business, which it’s calling “Character Count.” The company says, for now, it’s testing the waters with five already-produced episodes of around 25 to 30 minutes in length. It plans to wait to record more shows after getting the crowd’s reaction to the first few episodes, so it can make adjustments if need be.

The podcast will be hosted by Joe Wadlington, a marketer at Twitter who’s specifically supporting Twitter’s Business initiatives.

Each episode will involve talking to people behind the scenes of some of Twitter’s advertising stories, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium (@MontereyAq), Dropbox (@dropbox), and Simon & Schuster (@SimonBooks). The companies will speak about how they built effective ad campaigns and why Twitter’s audience mattered to them. The goal, says Twitter, is to offer others in the industry a look into which brands are “doing it right on Twitter,” and potentially spark more brands to do the same.

The launch of the podcast arrives when Twitter is trying to shift Wall Street’s attention away from the network’s stagnant user growth. Twitter recently said it would stop reporting monthly users, in favor of daily users, as a result of its inability to grow this key number. The change was announced in Twitter’s Q4 2018 earnings release, where the company said it had lost another 5 million monthly users in the final quarter of 2018 bringing its total down to 321 million.

Instead, Twitter wants more attention on its ability to turn a profit from the users it does have – as it did in Q4 for the fifth quarter in a row, and the fifth time ever. Its Q4 revenues were $909 million, which were more than the expected $868.1 million and up 24 percent on the year ago quarter. Advertising accounted for 87 percent of those revenues, Twitter said. It’s no surprise, then, that Twitter now wants to help advertisers learn from others succeeding in this space and grow that figure further.

Twitter is not the only company that’s tapping into the popular audio format of podcasting to talk to advertisers and marketers more directly.

In January, Facebook also launched its first U.S. podcast with a series focused on entrepreneurship – the larger, unspoken goal being to position Facebook as a place where entrepreneurs come to advertise their business. And somewhat related, LinkedIn debuted LinkedIn Live, a new video broadcast service which gives people and organizations the ability to stream real-time videos to groups in a sort of cross between YouTube Live and video podcasting, perhaps.

Twitter, like Facebook and LinkedIn, will not be running other ads within its programming. That makes sense, as the podcast itself is effectively an ad for Twitter’s business and advertising tools.

New episodes will debut every two weeks on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, TuneIn, and Stitcher.

News Source = techcrunch.com

TikTok spotted testing native video ads

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TikTok is testing a new ad product: a sponsored video ad that directs users to the advertiser’s website. The test was spotted in the U.S. TikTok app, where a video labeled “Sponsored” from the bike retailer Specialized is showing up in the main feed, along with a blue “Lean More” button that directs users to tap to get more information.

Presumably, this button could be customized to send users to the advertiser’s website or any other web address, but for the time being it only opened the Specialized Bikes (@specializedbikes) profile page within the TikTok app.

However, the profile page itself also sported a few new features, including what appeared to be a tweaked version of the verified account badge.

Below the @specializedbikes username was “Specialized Bikes Page” and a blue checkmark (see below). On other social networks, checkmarks like this usually indicate a user whose account has gone through a verification process of some kind.

Typical TikTok user profiles don’t look like this — they generally only include the username. In some cases, we’ve seen them sport other labels like “popular creator” or “Official Account” — but these have been tagged with a yellowish-orange checkmark, not a blue one.

In addition, a pop-up banner overlay appeared at the bottom of the profile page, which directed users to “Go to Website” followed by another blue “Learn More” button.

Oddly, this pop-up banner didn’t show up all the time, and the “Learn More” button didn’t work — it only re-opened the retailer’s profile page.

As for the video itself, it features a Valentine’s Day heart that you can send to a crush, and, of course, some bikes.

The music backing the clip is Breakbot’s “By Your Side,” but is labeled “Promoted Music.” Weirdly, when you tap on the “Promoted Music” you’re not taken to the soundbite on TikTok like usual, but instead get an error message saying “Ad videos currently do not support this feature.”

The glitches indicate this video ad unit is still very much in the process of being tested, and not a publicly available ad product at this time.

TikTok parent ByteDance only just began to experiment with advertising in the U.S. and U.K. in January.

So far, public tests have only included an app launch pre-roll ad. But according to a leaked pitch deck published by Digiday, there are four TikTok ad products in the works: a brand takeover, an in-feed native video ad, a hashtag challenge and a Snapchat-style 2D lens filter for photos; 3D and AR lens were listed as “coming soon.”

TikTok previously worked with GUESS on a hashtag challenge last year, and has more recently been running app launch pre-roll ads for companies like GrubHub, Disney’s Kingdom Hearts and others. However, a native video ad hadn’t yet been spotted in the wild until now.

According to estimates from Sensor Tower, TikTok has grown to nearly 800 million lifetime installs, not counting Android in China. Factoring that in, it’s fair to say the app has topped 1 billion downloads. As of last July, TikTok claimed to have more than 500 million monthly active users worldwide, excluding the 100 million users it gained from acquiring Musical.ly.

That’s a massive user base, and attractive to advertisers. Plus, native video ads like the one seen in testing would allow brands to participate in the community, instead of interrupting the experience the way video pre-rolls do.

TikTok and Specialized declined to comment.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

‘Amazon Live’ is the retailer’s latest effort to take on QVC with live-streamed video

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Amazon is taking on QVC with the launch of Amazon Live, which features live-streamed video shows from Amazon talent as well as those from brands that broadcast their own live streams through a new app, Amazon Live Creator. On the live shows, hosts talk about and demonstrate products available for sale on Amazon, much like they do on QVC. Beneath that sits a carousel where shoppers can browse product details and make purchases.

More than one video streams on Amazon Live at the same time, so shoppers can tune to the one that most interests them.

For example, Amazon Live is currently streaming a Valentine’s Day Gift Shop show, a cooking-focused show (In the Kitchen with @EdenEats) and Back to Business Live, which is showing off products aimed at daycare centers and schools.

You can tap on the different videos to change streams, scroll down to watch recordings of those videos that were recently live or view which live shows are coming up next.

On the web, the live-streaming site is available at Amazon.com/Live, but it’s not listed yet in Amazon’s main navigation menus so it remains hard to find. On mobile, there’s now a section labeled “Amazon Live” that’s appearing on both the iOS and Android app’s main navigation menu as of a recent app update.

We’ve confirmed the page Amazon.com/Live is newly added, though this is not the first time Amazon has offered live streams.

The retailer has dabbled in live streaming in the past, with mixed results.

Two years ago, it pulled the plug on its short-lived effort, Style Code Live, which also offered a QVC-like home shopping experience. The live show featured hosts with TV and broadcast backgrounds, and brought in experts to talk about beauty and style tips.

But Style Code Live focused only on fashion and beauty.

Amazon Live, on the other hand, covers all sorts of products, ranging from smart home to games to toys to kitchen items to home goods to electronics to kitchen items and much more. It’s also positioned differently. Instead of being a single live video show featuring only Amazon talent and guests, live streaming is something Amazon is opening up to brands that want to reach a wider audience and get their products discovered.

Above: Amazon Live hosts

You may have seen some of these live-streamed videos from brands in the past.

On Prime Day 2017 and again in 2018, Amazon aired live video streams promoting some of the Prime Day deals. These videos were produced by the brands, very much like some you’ll now find on Amazon Live.

The company has also aired live-streamed content on its Today’s Deals page, and has allowed brands to stream to their product pages, their Store and on Amazon.com/Live before today.

Amazon now aims to make it easier for brands to participate on Amazon Live, too.

On a website detailing Amazon Live, Amazon touts how live-streaming video can drive sales, allow a brand to interact with their customers in real time — including through chat during the live stream — and reach more shoppers. One early tester, card game maker “Watch Ya’ Mouth,” is quoted saying that live streaming had helped to increase daily visits to its product detail page by 5x and “significantly grew our sales.”

The informational site also points brands to Amazon’s new app for live streaming, Amazon Live Creator.

Available only on iOS, the app allows a brand to stream its video content directly to Amazon.com on desktop, mobile and within the Amazon mobile app. The app supports streaming directly from the smartphone itself or through an encoder using a professional camera.

It also includes built-in analytics so brands can determine how well their stream performed, including things like how much of their budget they’ve spent on “boosting” (a way to pay to reach more shoppers), total views, unmuted views and other metrics.

According to data from Sensor Tower, Amazon Live Creator was released yesterday, on February 7, 2019, and is currently unranked on the App Store. It has no reviews, but has a five-star rating.

Currently, the live-streaming feature is open to U.S. Professional Sellers registered in the Amazon Brand Registry, Amazon’s website says, and live streaming from China and Hong Kong is not supported.

 

Amazon has been interested in live streaming for some time. The company patented its idea around live video shopping last year and was spotted hiring for its Amazon Live efforts before that.

However, Amazon had claimed at the time that its live-stream shopping experiences were “not new.”

That’s true, given that live streams that would sometimes appear around big sales, like Prime Day, for instance. But Amazon has promoted its live video directly to online shoppers since Style Code Live.

This week’s launch of the Amazon Live app for brands and Amazon’s move to create a dedicated link to the Amazon Live streams on its mobile app indicates that live video is becoming a much bigger effort for the retailer, despite its attempt to shoo this away as “old news.”

This increased focus on live video also comes at a time when Instagram is being rumored to be working on a standalone shopping app, and is heavily pushing its creator-focused IGTV product into users’ home feeds. And, of course, YouTube has capitalized on how both live and pre-recorded video demos from brands and influencers can help to sell products like makeup, electronics, toys and more.

Amazon formally declined to comment.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Spotify’s increased focus on podcasts in 2019 includes selling its own ads

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Having established itself as a top streaming service with now over 200 million users, Spotify this year is preparing to focus more of its attention on podcasts. The company plans bring its personalization technology to podcasts in order to make better recommendations, update its app’s interface so people can access podcasts more easily, and broker more exclusives with podcast creators. It’s also getting into the business of selling ads within podcasts, as a means of generating revenue from this increasingly popular form of audio programming.

In fact, Spotify has already begun to dabble in podcast ad sales, ahead of this larger push.

Spotify, we’ve learned, has been selling its own advertisements in its original podcasts since mid-2018 year, including in programs like Spotify Original “Amy Schumer Presents: 3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “The Joe Budden Podcast,” “Dissect,” “Showstopper,” and others. With more exclusives planned for the year ahead, the portion of Spotify’s ad business focused on podcasts will also grow.

The company appears to be taking a different approach to working with podcasters than it does with it comes to working with music artists.

Today, Spotify gives artists tools that help share their work and be discovered – it invested in distribution platform DistroKid, for example, and now lets artists submit tracks for playlist consideration. With podcasters, however, Spotify wants to either bring their voices in-house, or at least exclusively license their content.

“Over the last year, we become very focused on building out a great podcast universe,” said Head of Spotify Studios Courtney Holt, speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week. “The first step was to make sure that we’ve got the world’s best podcasts on Spotify, and integrated the experience into the service in a way that allowed people to build habits and behavior there,” he said.

“What we started to see is that the types of podcasts that really were working on Spotify were ones where they were really authentic voices…so we just decided to invest more in those types of voices,” Holt added.

Spotify’s collection of originals has been steadily growing over the past year. Last August, for example, Spotify nabbed an exclusive deal with the “Joe Budden” podcast, which is aimed at hip-hop and rap culture fans, and launched its first branded podcast, “Ebb & Flow,” focused on hip-hop and R&B. Its full original lineup today also includes “Dissect,” Amy Schumer’s “3 Girls, 1 Keith,” “Mogul,” “The Rewind with Guy Raz,” “Showstopper,” “Unpacked,” “Crimetown” (Its first season was wide, second season is exclusive to Spotify), “UnderCover,” and “El Chapo: El Jefe y su Juicio.”

At CES, Spotify announced the addition of one more –  journalist Jemele Hill is coming Spotify with an exclusive podcast called “Unbothered,” which will feature high-profile guests in sports, music, politics, culture, and more.

In growing its collection of originals, the company found that podcasters who joined Spotify exclusively were actually able to grow their audience, despite leaving other distribution platforms.

For example, the Joe Budden podcast had its highest streaming day ever after joining Spotify.

This has led Spotify to believe that influencers in the podcast community will be able to bring their community with them when they become a Spotify exclusive, and then further grow their listener base by tapping into Spotify’s larger music user base and, soon, an improved recommendation system.

There are other perks for Spotify, too – when users come to Spotify and begin to listen to podcasts, they often then spend more time engaged with the app, it found.

“People who consume podcasts on Spotify are consuming more of Spotify – including music,” said Holt. “So we found that in increasing our [podcast] catalog and spending more time to make the user experience better, it wasn’t taking away from music, it was enhancing the overall time spent on the platform,” he noted.

While chasing exclusive deals to bring more original podcasts to Spotify will be a big initiative this year, Spotify will continue to offer its recently launched podcasts submission feature to everyone else.

With this sort of basic infrastructure in place, Spotify now wants to help users discover new podcasts and improve the listening experience.

One aspect of this will involve pointing listeners to other podcast content they may like.

For instance, Spotify could point Joe Budden fans to other podcasts about hip-hop and rap. It will also leverage its multi-year partnership with Samsung to allow listeners pick up where they left off in an episode as they move between different devices. And it will turn its personalization and recommendation technology to podcasts – including the ads in the podcasts themselves.

“Think about what we’ve done around music – the more understand you around the music you stream, the more we can personalize the ad experience. Now we can take that to podcasts,” said Brian Benedik, VP and Global Head of Advertising Sales at Spotify, when asked about the potential for Spotify selling ads in podcasts.

The company has been testing the waters with its own podcast ad sales since mid 2018, Benedik said. The sales are handled in-house by Spotify’s ad sales team for the time being.

Benedik had also appeared on a panel this week at CES, where he talked about the value of contextual advertising – meaning, ads that can be personalized to the user based on factors like mood, behavior and moments. This data could be appealing to podcast advertisers, as well.

But to scale its efforts around podcast ads, Spotify will need to invest in digital ad insertion technology. Benedik told us Spotify is currently deciding whether that’s something it wants to build in-house or acquire outright.

Spotify’s rival Pandora went the latter route. It closed on the acquisition of adtech company Adswizz in May 2018, then introduced capabilities for shorter, more personalized ads in August. By November, Pandora announced it was bringing its Genome technology to podcasts, which allowed for a recommendation system.

Now Spotify aims to catch up.

The addition of podcasts has reoriented Spotify’s focus as company, Holt said.

“We’re an audio company. We’re trying to be the world’s best audio service,” he told the audience at CES. “It’s a pure play for us. We’re seeing increased engagement; there’s great commercial opportunities from podcasting that we’ve never seen on the platform…And, obviously, exclusives are to give us something that makes the platform truly unique – to have people come to Spotify for something you can’t get anywhere else is the sort of cherry on top of that entire strategy,” Holt said.

Image credits: Spotify

News Source = techcrunch.com

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