The news industry has been struggling against Big Tech for over two decades. The CMA’s 2020 investigation into Online Platforms and Digital Advertising found that 80 percent of the £14 billion spent on digital advertising in the UK went to Facebook and Apple (see here). Apple and Google’s announced browser changes, which between them involve cloaking IP addresses, removing user agent string data and blocking third party cookies, challenge news publishers’ ability to make money from their core advertising base.
News publishers have three response strategies: appeasement, legal and regulatory defence, and business innovation.
- Appeasement means giving up on being independent businesses and instead signing up to tenting offers like Google News Showcase or Apple News, which offer financial contributions designed to “support journalism” but which create strategic dependency on Big Tech platforms.
- The news industry worldwide has highlighted the threat to plurality of the media and democracy. The US, EU and UK all have legislation in the pipeline. Australia’s proposed bargaining code saw Google and Facebook threaten to close down operations there. The UK is now contemplating a similar approach. Legal actions abound: UK CMA’s investigation digital markets, and Privacy Sandbox case, the Texas AG vs Google, and the German investigation into Google News Showcase are running in parallel with the EU’s investigation of Google’s control over advertising technology, central to publishers’ ability to pursue their own businesses online.
- Business innovation includes tech solutions that avoid the Big Tech platforms: header bidding and PIID systems are being used to avoid dependency, with varying success. Other methods of bypassing the Big The platforms have bene created: such as Preference Express and SWAN, as well as offerings from Live Ramp and Trade Desk. Then there is Arc XP and Zeus, from the publishing division and ad-platform developed by the Bezos-owned Washington Post for better advertising performance: these technologies have been licensed to 2000 media and non-media brands. From a technology engineers’ perspective, Arc cannot be faulted and could indeed provide the perfect solution to the traditional press, whose infrastructure is in desperate need of revamping. However, the dependence danger is a risk here, too. This was highlighted by Dan Froomkin, an outspoken former journalist at the Washington Post, in his article, ‘Jeff Bezos’s Next Monopoly: The Press’. Froomkin writes, ‘being dependent on Bezos’s technology comes with serious consequences – often including manipulation, predatory surveillance and unfair practices. What initially appears to be a benign solution becomes exploitation of a trapped client base’.
At MOW we consider an independent press and editorial discretion to be aspects of free expression that must be safeguarded for the good of society. Embracing technology solutions of any Big Tech platform needs to be viewed carefully and critically given the dependency risks involved. A preferred solution would be one from a truly independent source that is not in any way tied to one of the big tech platforms.
Header image courtesy of Creative Commons (licensed for free under the Creative Commons license).