L E , M U D DY

Campaign Middle East - - NEWS -

While a brand might be happy to as­so­ci­ate with whole­some videos of foot­ball, mo­tor rac­ing and other sports, they might be less happy to find them­selves next to the same footage edited to show only the most vi­o­lent tack­les and dan­ger­ous crashes. Even the most un­savoury con­tent might be ac­cept­able in the con­text of a snip­pet in a news bulletin.

It pays, of course, for brands to go into Google’s dash­boards and fid­dle with their set­tings to make sure they are ap­pear­ing next to just the right videos, and not the wrong ones. But Google has made moves to set the de­faults tighter. For peo­ple post­ing videos, it is also worth us­ing tags and de­scrip­tions to give them more con­text so that they are not ac­ci­den­tally tarred with the wrong brush for want of bet­ter de­scrip­tions and un­der­stand­ing.

Among the bad ac­tors Google tar­gets are those sell­ing morally du­bi­ous goods and ser­vices. It has banned pay­day loans and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ad­ver­tis­ing, for ex­am­ple.

And at the same time it is tack­ling ad fraud. Stephan Lo­erke, CEO of the World Fed­er­a­tion of Ad­ver­tis­ers, the trade body for mark­ers, who had been flown in from Brus­sels by Google, says the in­dus­try has only started to pay at­ten­tion to the prob­lem com­par­a­tively re­cently.

“If you just look at ad fraud, how come no one has ever talked about ad fraud un­til one year ago?” he asks. “Ad fraud is any­thing be­tween 10 and 30 per cent of client spend, and fun­nily it just didn’t make head­lines. And why? Be­cause in fact there is only one loser in the ecosys­tem of ad fraud, and that’s the client. If the client hasn’t the nec­es­sary set up, hasn’t the nec­es­sary knowl­edge, no one – and cer­tainly not part­ners in the ecosys­tem – will be rais­ing this. That’s the sim­ple re­al­ity.”

He adds: “What’s par­tic­u­larly wor­ry­ing is, given the way ecosys­tem part­ners are re­mu­ner­ated, ad fraud ac­tu­ally ben­e­fits more le­git­i­mate ecosys­tem part­ners than crim­i­nals. That’s sim­ply the arith­metic of it.”

March’s YouTube scare proved to be a wakeup call, he said, and now mar­keters are look­ing more closely at what hap­pens with their ad­ver­tis­ing on­line.

How­ever, chas­ing ad fraud­sters can be “like hav­ing a game of chess against an op­po­nent who is con­stantly chang­ing the rules” Says Fer­rate, who de­scribes him­self and his team as “war­rior sci­en­tists”.

Bad ac­tors are al­ways test­ing what they can get away with, says Stans­field.

“Peo­ple re­ally do like to play the line, or fig­ure out the line of what our pol­icy is,” she says. “So we are al­ways try­ing to make sure that we are aware of that and that when peo­ple get too close to the line or go over the line we are tak­ing con­sis­tent ac­tion there. That is dif­fi­cult. It’s not an easy dis­cus­sion al­ways.”

Google is also giv­ing more con­trol to the users them­selves. In some ways its open­ing up con­trol of how our data is used is prepa­ra­tion for the Euro­pean Union’s Gen­eral Data Pro­tec­tion Reg­u­la­tion (GDPR), which will come into play in May.

The plat­form lets users fine-tune their set­tings through “My Ac­count”, which it in­tro­duced in 2015. This gives pow­er­ful and flex­i­ble con­trol over what data is gath­ered by Google and how it is used. About half of all users who visit it do make tweaks, says Matt Brit­tin, pres­i­dent of EMEA busi­ness and op­er­a­tions at Google. He doesn’t say what per­cent­age of users visit it in the first place.

Google also tries to ex­plain how our data is be­ing used, and what the ben­e­fits can be. And that seems to al­most be the com­pany’s new mantra: ex­plain, ex­plain, ex­plain. The Dublin war brief­ing was to ex­plain to jour­nal­ists – and there­fore to the wider mar­ket­ing com­mu­nity – what steps it has been tak­ing. It wants to ex­plain to users what data it would like to use, and why. And even the bad ac­tors de­serve a chance to rec­tify their wrong­do­ings, as their fail­ings are not al­ways through mal­ice but through ig­no­rance.

The WFA’s Lo­erke says: “We think that the con­se­quences need to be pro­por­tion­ate for web­sites. If a web­site has an ad for­mat that, for some rea­son, is in breach, it can’t be that this web­site gets black­listed and there­fore is po­ten­tially put at risk in terms of eco­nomic vi­a­bil­ity. So we think there need to be thresh­olds, there needs to be the abil­ity to give time to cor­rect, and ide­ally we think that it should be only the ad for­mats that are not in com­pli­ance that are fil­tered out, rather than the en­tire web­site.”

Stans­field echoes this sen­ti­ment. She says: “This is some­thing we recog­nised in the last year, es­pe­cially with our pub­lish­ing clients. There was kind of a black-or-white de­ci­sion, which we don’t al­ways like to have, of what we could do for their sites. If there was any kind of hate­ful con­tent or deroga­tory con­tent we can only re­ally is­sue them a warn­ing or take down their site. So we de­cided that we need more flex­i­bil­ity in our en­force­ment as well, where we rolled out page-level pol­icy ac­tions that en­abled us to re­move in­di­vid­ual vi­o­lat­ing pages. We could de­mon­e­tise those pages only but al­low the rest of the site to be main­tained.”

There is a con­stant bal­let go­ing on be­tween users, ad­ver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers, with Google try­ing to make sure no one trips over the oth­ers’ toes.

Google must keep eval­u­at­ing, keep ex­plain­ing and keep evolv­ing. Dig­i­tal isn’t stand­ing still, so ap­proaches to bad con­tent, ad­ver­tis­ing and data shouldn’t ei­ther.

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