Google gets slapped with $5BN EU fine for Android antitrust abuse

Google gets slapped with BN EU fine for Android antitrust abuse

Google has been fined a record breaking €4.34 billion (~$5BN) by European antitrust regulators for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system.

Competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager has tweeted to confirm the penalty ahead of a press conference about to take place. Stay tuned for more details as we get them.

In a longer statement about the decision, Vestager said:

Today, mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic. It has changed the lives of millions of Europeans. Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine. In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.

In particular, the EC has decided that Google:

  • has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google’s app store (the Play Store);
  • made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices; and
  • has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called “Android forks”).

The decision also concludes that Google is dominant in the markets for general internet search services; licensable smart mobile operating systems; and app stores for the Android mobile operating system.

During the press conference Vestager said the Commission had determined that Google had breached its competition rules with Android since 2011. (Although its press release also notes that during 2013, after being called out by the Commission, Google gradually stopped making illegal payments to device manufacturers to exclusively pre-install Google Search. “The illegal practice effectively ceased as of 2014,” it adds.)

“The decision today concludes that the restrictions Google imposed on manufacturers and network operators using Android have breached [EU] rules since 2011,” said Vestager. “First that’s because Google’s practices have denied rival search engines the possibility to compete on their merits. They made sure that Google search engine is pre-installed on practically all Android devices, which is an advantage that cannot be matched.

“And by making payments to major manufacturers and network operators on condition that no other search app or search engine was pre-installed — well, then rivals were excluded from this opportunity.”

“Google’s practices also harmed competition and further innovation in the wider mobile space, beyond just Internet search — and that’s because they prevented other mobile browsers from competing effectively with the pre-installed Google Chrome browser.

“Finally they obstructed the development of Android forks. This could have provided a platform for rival search engines as well as other app developers to thrive.”

She raised the example of Amazon’s Android fork, Fire OS, as a rival Android platform that has suffered from Google’s contractual arrangements with device manufacturers.

“In 2012 and 2013 Amazon tried to license to device manufacturers its Android fork, called Fire OS. It wanted to co-operate with manufacturers to increase its chances of commercial success. And manufacturers were interested but due to Google’s restrictions, manufacturers could not launch Fire OS on even a single device,” she said.

“They would have lost the right to sell any Android phone with key Google apps. Nowadays, very few devices run with Fire OS. Namely only those manufactured by Amazon themselves. And this is not a proportionate outcome. Google is entitled to set technical requirements to ensure that functionality and apps within its own Android ecosystem runs smoothly. But these technical requirements cannot serve as a smokescreen to prevent the development of competing Android ecosystems.

“Google cannot have its cake and eat it.”

Vestager also made a point of characterizing Google’s actions as monopolistic towards data, saying that by blocking rival apps and services it “also denied rivals access to valuable data from increased user traffic which in turn could have allowed rivals to improve their products”.

What about breaking Google up?

During the press conference she was asked several times about whether breaking up Google might not be a more effective remedy than the cease & desist decision the Commission has reached today — which hands responsibility for Google to come up with a compliance remedy for its illegal behavior with Android (albeit, subject to ongoing monitoring by the Commission).

She replied that she wasn’t sure that breaking up Google would make for an effective competition remedy, arguing there are “no silver bullets” to ensuring competitive markets.

“Here we have a decision that is very clear, which will allow mobile device producers to have a choice — that will us, as consumers, to have a choice as well. That’s what competition is about. And I think that is much more important than a discussion of whether or not breaking up a company would do that,” she said, when asked whether she would exclude the possibility of breaking up Google — so she was sidestepping a direct answer to that.

“I think what will serve competition is for more players to have a real go, to be able to reach consumers so that we can use our choice to find what suits us the best,” she added. “Test out new search engines, new browsers, have maybe a phone that works in a slightly different way [via an Android fork]… maybe the totality of the phone, in the way it was presented, that would work to allow others to compete on the merits, to show consumers what can we do, what have we invented, this is where we put our efforts, this is the that innovation we want to present for you. This I think would enable competition.”

She also emphasized the importance of passing proposed EU legislation related to transparency and fairness for businesses that are reliant on online platforms.

“I think there is a very important discussion which is to discuss how to pass the legislation that my colleagues have tabled — legislation that will ensure that you have transparency and fairness in the business to platform relationship,” she said.

“So that if you’re a business and you find that ‘oh, my traffic has stopped’, that you know why it happened, when it happened and what to do to get your traffic back…. Because this will change the marketplace, and it will change the way we are protected as consumers but also as businesses.”

Google has tweeted an initial reaction to the decision, claiming Android has created “a vibrant ecosystem, rapid innovation and lower prices”.

A company spokesperson confirmed to us that it will appeal the Commission’s decision.

In a lengthy blog post response, CEO Sundar Pichai expands on the company’s argument that the Android ecosystem has “created more choice, not less” — writing for example:

Today, because of Android, there are more than 24,000 devices, at every price point, from more than 1,300 different brands,including DutchFinnishFrenchGermanHungarianItalianLatvianPolishRomanianSpanish and Swedish
phone makers.

The phones made by these companies are all different, but have one thing in common — the ability to run the same applications. This is possible thanks to simple rules that ensure technical compatibility, no matter what the size or shape of the device. No phone maker is even obliged to sign up to these rules — they can use or modify Android in any way they want, just as Amazon has done with its Fire tablets and TV sticks.

He also has a veiled warning about the consequences should Google’s “free distribution” model for Android come unstuck, writing:

The free distribution of the Android platform, and of Google’s suite of applications, is not only efficient for phone makers and operators—it’s of huge benefit for developers and consumers. If phone makers and mobile network operators couldn’t include our apps on their wide range of devices, it would upset the balance of the Android ecosystem. So far, the Android business model has meant that we haven’t had to charge phone makers for our technology, or depend on a tightly controlled distribution model.

The fine is the second major penalty for the ad tech giant for breaching EU competition rules in just over a year — and the highest ever issued by the Commission for abuse of a dominant market position.

In June 2017 Google was hit with a then-record €2.4BN (~$2.7BN) antitrust penalty related to another of its products, search comparison service, Google Shopping. The company has since made changes to how it displays search results for products in Europe.

According to the bloc’s rules, companies can be fined 10 per cent of their global revenue if they are deemed to have breached European competition law.

Google’s parent entity Alphabet reported full year revenue of $110.9 billion in 2017. So the $5BN fine is around half of what the company could have been on the hook for if EU regulators had levied the maximum penalty possible.

“It’s a very serious illegal behavior”

The Commission said the size of the fine takes into account “the duration and gravity of the infringement”.

It also specified it had been calculated on the basis of the value of Google’s revenue from search advertising services on Android devices in the European Economic Area (per its own guidelines on fines).

Pressed during the press conference on how the Commission had determined the size of the penalty, which is double the penalty it issued in the Google Shopping case, Vestager emphasized the time period over which it had been going on, the fact of it having three components, and the effect of it, combined with Google’s rising turnover — adding finally for emphasis: “It’s a very serious infringement. It’s a very serious illegal behavior.”

Google will have three months to pay the fine but has confirmed it will appeal the decision — and legal wrangling could drag the process out for many years.

Vestager confirmed that while antitrust fines must technically be paid to the EU within the three month deadline they are placed in a closed account until the end of any appeals process — meaning the money cannot be used in the meanwhile.

So, in the Android case, the $5BN will likely be locked up until the late 2020s — assuming Google’s appeals aren’t successful. Should Google fail to overturn the Commission’s decision in the courts, Vestager said the money would be returned to EU Member States “using the same key as the contribution to the European budget”.

“You can impose a fine if someone has done someone wrong, you cannot impose a fine because you need the money. That would be wrong,” she added. “This of course means that it will take quite some time… if we win in court — and I can assure you we have done our best to make that possible — then, eventually, the money will come back to Member States to serve European citizens.”

Prior to the Commission’s record pair of fines for Google products, its next highest antitrust penalty is a €1.06BN antitrust fine for chipmaker Intel all the way back in 2009.

Yet only last year Europe’s top court ruled that the case against Intel — which focused on it offering rebates to high-volume buyers — should be sent back to a lower court to be re-examined, nearly a decade after the original antitrust decision. So Google’s lawyers are likely to have a spring in their step going into this next European antitrust battle.

The latest EU fine for Android has been on the cards for more than two years, given the Commission’s preliminary findings and consistently prescriptive remarks from Vestager during the course of what has been a multi-year investigation process.

And, indeed, given multiple EU antitrust investigations into Google businesses and business practices (the EU has also been probing Google’s AdSense advertising service — a separate investigation that Vestager today confirmed remains ongoing).

The Commission’s prior finding that Google is a dominant company in Internet search — a judgement reached at the culmination of its Google Shopping investigation last year — is also important, making the final judgement in the Android case more likely because the status places the onus on Google not to abuse its dominant position in other markets, adjacent or otherwise.

Announcing the Google Shopping penalty last summer, Vestager made a point of emphasizing that dominant companies “need to be more vigilant” — saying they have a “special responsibility” to ensure they are not in breach of antitrust rules, and also specifying this applies “in the market where it’s dominant” and “in any other market”. So that means — as here in the Android case — in mobile services too.

While a one-off financial penalty — even one that runs to so many billions of dollars — cannot cause lasting damage to a company as wealthy as Alphabet, of greater risk to its business are changes the regulators can require to how it operates Android which could have a sustained impact on Google if they end up reshaping the competitive landscape for mobile services.

In search of a remedy

At least that’s the Commission’s intention: To reset what has been judged an unfair competitive advantage for Google via Android, and foster competitive innovation because rival products get a fairer chance to impress consumers. Although it is avoiding prescribing any specific remedies — beyond telling Google to stop it.

For instance Vestager was asked whether the Commission might want Google to send push notifications to existing Android users to highlight alternatives, and thereby offer a remedy to consumers who had already been impacted by the choice constraints it placed on device makers and carriers.

“It is for Google to figure out how to lift this responsibility,” she told reporters. “It’s for them to do this… Google may make that kind of choice [i.e. sending push notifications] — on that we have taken no position.”

However the popularity and profile of Google services suggests that even if Android users are offered a choice as a result of an EU antitrust remedy — such as of which search engine, maps service, mobile browser or even app store to use — most will likely pick the Google-branded offering they’re most familiar with.

That said, the antitrust remedy could have the chance to shift consumers’ habits over time — if, for instance, OEMs start offering Android devices that come preloaded with alternative mobile services, thereby raising the visibility of non-Google apps and services. Which is clearly the Commission’s hope.

Interestingly, Google has been striking deals with Chinese OEMs in recent months — to brings its ARCore technology to markets where its core services are censored and its Play Store is restricted. And its strategy to workaround regional restrictions in China by working more closely with device makers may also be part of a plan to hedge against fresh regulatory restrictions being placed on Android elsewhere. 

Complainants in the EU’s earlier Google Shopping antitrust case continue to express displeasure with the outcome of the remedies Google has come up with on that front. And in a pointed statement responding to news that another EU antitrust penalty was incoming for Android, Shivaun Raff, CEO of Foundem, the lead complainant in Google Shopping case, said: “Fines make headlines. Effective remedies make a difference.”

So the devil will be in the detail of the Android remedies that Google comes up with.

“The decision requires Google to bring its illegal conduct to an end within 90 days in an effective manner,” said Vestager today. “At a minimum, our decision requires Google to stop and not to re-engage in the three types of restrictions that I have described. In other words our decision stops Google from controlling which search and browser apps manufacturers can pre-install on Android devices, or which Android operating system they can adopt. But it is Google’s sole responsibility to make sure that it changes its conduct in a way that brings the infringements to an effective end.”

“We will monitor this very closely,” she added, warning that failure to comply would invite further penalty payments — of up to 5% of the average daily turnover of Alphabet for each day of non-compliance, back dated to when the non-compliance started. “Our decision requires Google to change the way it operates and face the consequences of its action.”

Aptoide, one of the original app store complainants — which filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission in 2014 complaining that Google’s policies did not allow any alternative app stores which competed with the Play Store to be valid content — welcomed today’s decision, albeit cautiously, as a “positive first step”. So there’s a lot of ‘wait and see’ in the air.

CEO Paulo Trezentos told us: “The EU’s ruling justifying our antitrust arguments is a positive first step forward, for a market more open, more competitive and better tailored for the users. It is these types of decisions that push industries to bigger levels and we hope that this will help everyone evolve.”

On the Google Shopping compliance front, Vestager had some additional words of warning for Google — saying: “We have not yet taken a position on whether Google has complied with the decision. And since we haven’t done so this remains very much an open question.”

She also said the Commission is continuing to investigate other elements of Google’s business practices related to other vertical search services.

“I cannot prejudge the outcome of these ongoing investigations,” she said, also citing the ongoing AdSense probe, and adding that they continue to be “a top priority for us”.

Android as an antitrust ‘Trojan horse’

The European Commission announced its formal in-depth probe of Android in April 2015, saying then that it was investigating complaints Google was “requiring and incentivizing” OEMs to exclusively install its own services on devices on Android devices, and also examining whether Google was hindering the ability of smartphone and tablet makers to use and develop other OS versions of Android (i.e. by forking the open source platform).

Rivals — banding together under the banner ‘FairSearch‘ — complained Google was essentially using the platform as a ‘Trojan horse’ to unfairly dominate the mobile web. The lobby group’s listing on the EU’s transparency register describes its intent as promoting “innovation and choice across the Internet ecosystem by fostering and defending competition in online and mobile search within the European Union”, and names its member organizations as: Buscapé, Cepic, Foundem, Naspers, Nokia, Oracle, TripAdvisor and Yroo.

On average, Android has around a 70-75% smartphone marketshare across Europe. But in some European countries the OS accounts for an even higher proportion of usage. In Spain, for example, Android took an 86.1% marketshare as of March, according to market data collected by Kantar Worldpanel.

In recent years Android has carved an even greater market share in some European countries, while Google’s Internet search product also has around a 90% share of the European market, and competition concerns about its mobile OS have been sounded for years.

Last year Google reached a $7.8M settlement with Russian antitrust authorities over Android — which required the company to no longer demand exclusivity of its applications on Android devices in Russia; could not restrict the pre-installation of any competing search engines and apps, including on the home screen; could no longer require Google Search to be the only general search engine pre-installed.

Google also agreed with Russian antitrust authorities that it would no longer enforce its prior agreements where handset makers had agreed to any of these terms. Additionally, as part of the settlement, Google was required to allow third parties to include their own search engines into a choice window, and to allowing users to pick their preferred default search engine from a choice window displayed in Google’s Chrome browser. The company was also required to develop a new Chrome widget for Android devices already being used in Russia, to replace the standard Google search widget on the home screen so they would be offered a choice when it launched.

A year after Vestager’s public announcement of the EU’s antitrust probe of Android, she issued a formal Statement of Objections, saying the Commission believed Google has “implemented a strategy on mobile devices to preserve and strengthen its dominance in general Internet search”; and flagging as problematic the difficulty for Android users whose devices come pre-loaded with the Google Play store to use other app stores (which cannot be downloaded from Google Play).

She also raised concerns over Google providing financial incentives to manufacturers and mobile carriers on condition that Google search be pre-installed as the exclusive search provider. “In our opinion, as we see it right now, it is preventing competition from happening because of the strength of the financial incentive,” Vestager said in April 2016.

Google was given several months to respond officially to the antitrust charges against Android — which it finally did in November 2016, having been granted an extension to the Commission’s original deadline.

Thriving competition?

In its rebuttal then, Google argued that, contrary to antitrust complaints, Android had created a thriving and competitive mobile app ecosystem. It further claimed the EU was ignoring relevant competition in the form of Apple’s rival iOS platform — although iOS does not hold a dominant marketshare in Europe, nor Apple have a status as a dominant company in any EU markets.

Google also argued that its “voluntary compatibility agreements” for Android OEMs are a necessary mechanism for avoiding platform fragmentation — which it said would make life harder for app developers — as well as saying its requirement for Android OEMs to use Google search by default is effectively its payment for providing the suite for free to device makers (given there is no formal licensing fee for Android).

It also couched “free distribution is an efficient solution for everyone” — arguing it lowers prices for phone makers and consumers, while “still letting us sustain our substantial investment in Android and Play”.

In addition, Google sought to characterize open source platforms as “fragile” — arguing the Commission’s approach risked upsetting the “balance of needs” between users and developers, and suggesting their action could signal they favor “closed over open platforms”.

During today’s press conference, Vestager was asked whether she has concerns that the costs of handsets might rise should Google respond to the antitrust remedy by deciding to charge a licensing fee for OEMs to use Android, instead of distributing it for free.

She pointed to the revenue Google generates via the Play Store. “The revenue made from that is quite substantial so I think there is still a possibility for Google to recoup the investment made in developing the Android operating system,” she suggested.

“I think a number of different choices can be made by Google and it is for Google to make these choices,” she added. “What we see in general is that competition makes prices come down, gives you better choices. So you can have a theory that prices will come up, it is as likely that prices will come down because of more competition. The thing is now it’s open — there can be competition as to how this should work. And that’s the very point of the decision.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Tilting Point expands its user acquisition fund to $132M in annual spending

Tilting Point expands its user acquisition fund to 2M in annual spending

Mobile games publisher and marketer Tilting Point is dramatically increasing its commitment to its user acquisition fund.

The company announced a $12 million fund at the end of 2016, which it said would help developers grow their games while remaining independent. Today it  revealed that it’s committing $132 million in annual spending to the fund.

CEO Kevin Segalla said that as mobile app stores become more and more crowded, “user acquisition has gotten incredibly complicated,” so most indie developers “don’t have the tech and the expertise to do it.”

That’s where Tilting Point comes in. President Samir El Agili said the company has built “machine learning technology to maximize and optimize user acquisition.” It likes to work on games that are at the “crossroads,” taking a solid game with a sustainable business model, then dramatically accelerating its growth with advertising.

The initial fund led to partnerships on Disruptor Beam’s Star Trek Timelines and Nukebox Studios’ Food Truck Chef.

Segalla said that given the fund’s success, the question became, “How can we do this at a much larger scale?” which led to the much larger fund commitment, thanks to capital committed by CFC Capital (Tilting Point’s majority shareholder) and Metropolitan Partners Group.

Just to be clear, the $132 million isn’t a price tag that Tilting Point is putting on its own services, and instead represents money that will actually be spent on advertising.

Segalla argued that the deals are structured in a way where Tilting Point’s incentives are properly aligned with the developer’s.

“This is not a loan that we’re giving them, it’s not something where we’re looking for equity, there’s no ongoing revenue share,” he said. Instead, the company is betting that the spending will pay off in its relationship with developer and the resulting fees: “What we’re doing is risking our own capital because we believe in our marketing, our tech and our team.”

Tilting Point says it’s open to partnering with developers in any genre, and is also looking to work with developers internationally. Segalla predicted that fund could allow Tilting Point to work with 20 new games each year, though El Agili noted that the exact number will depend on the games: “The truth is, if get two to three games that do extremely well right away, we can start spending a lot of money.”

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

All charges against ex-Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including lewd act on a child, dismissed by judge

All charges against ex-Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including lewd act on a child, dismissed by judge

All charges against former Vungle CEO Zain Jaffer, including sexual abuse of a child, have been dropped. According to a statement from Jaffer’s representatives, San Mateo County Judge Stephanie Garratt dismissed the charges today. Jaffer was arrested last October and charged with several serious offenses, including a lewd act on one of his children, child abuse and battery on a police officer.

The dismissal is confirmed by San Mateo County Superior Court’s online records. The case (number 17NF012415A) had been scheduled to go to jury trial in late August.

Jaffer, whose full name is Zainali Jaffer, said in a statement that:

Being wrongfully accused of these crimes has been a terrible experience, which has had a deep and lasting impact on my family and the employees of my business. Those closest to me knew I was innocent and were confident that all of the charges against me would eventually be dismissed. I want to thank the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for carefully reviewing and considering all of the information and evidence in this case and dropping all the charges. I am also incredibly grateful for the continued and unwavering support of my wife and family, and look forward to spending some quality time with them.

Vungle, the fast-rising mobile ad startup Jaffer co-founded in 2011, removed him from the company immediately after they learned about the charges in October. TechCrunch has contacted Vungle and the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office for comment.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

Facebook launches Brand Collabs search engine for sponsoring creators

Facebook wants to help connect brands to creators so they can work out sponsored content and product placement deals, even if it won’t be taking a cut. Confirming our scoop from May, Facebook today launched its Brand Collabs Manager. It’s a search engine that brands can use to browse different web celebrities based on the demographics of their audience and portfolios of their past sponsored content.

Creators hoping to score sponsorship deals will be able to compile a portfolio connected to their Facebook Page that shows off how they can seamlessly work brands into their content. Brands will also be able to find them based on the top countries where they’re popular, and audience characteristics like interests, gender, education, relationship status, life events or home ownership.

Facebook also made a wide range of other creator monetization announcements today:

  • Facebook’s Creator app that launched on iOS in November rolled out globally on Android today (this link should be active soon once the app populates across Google Play). The Creator app lets content makers add intros and outros to Live broadcasts, cross-post content to Twitter and Instagram, see a unified inbox of their Facebook and Instagram comments plus Messenger chats, and more ways to connect with fans.

  • Ad Breaks, or mid-video commercials, are rolling out to more U.S. creators, starting with those that make longer and original content with loyal fans. Creators keep 55 percent of the ad revenue from the ads.
  • Patreon-Style Subscriptions are rolling out to more creators, letting them charge fans $4.99 per month for access to exclusive behind the scenes content plus a badge that highlights that they’re a patron. Facebook also offers microtransaction tipping of video creators through its new virtual currency called Stars.

  • Top Fan Badges that highlight a creator’s most engaged fans will now roll out more broadly after a strong initial reaction to tests in March.
  • Rights Manager, which lets content owners upload their videos so Facebook can fingerprint them and block others from uploading them, is now available for creators not just publishers.

Facebook also made a big announcement today about the launch of interactive video features and its first set of gameshows built with them. Creators can add quizzes, polls, gamification and more to their videos so users can play along instead of passively viewing. Facebook’s Watch hub for original content is also expanding to a wider range of show formats and creators.

Why Facebook wants sponsored content

Facebook needs the hottest new content from creators if it wants to prevent users’ attention from slipping to YouTube, Netflix, Twitch and elsewhere. But to keep creators loyal, it has to make sure they’re earning money off its platform. The problem is, injecting Ad Breaks that don’t scare off viewers can be difficult, especially on shorter videos.

But Vine proved that six seconds can be enough to convey a subtle marketing message. A startup called Niche rose to arrange deals between creators and brands who wanted a musician to make a song out of the windows and doors of their new Honda car, or a comedian to make a joke referencing Coca-Cola. Twitter eventually acquired Niche for a reported $50 million so it could earn money off Vine without having to insert traditional ads. [Disclosure: My cousin Darren Lachtman was a co-founder of Niche.]

Vine naturally attracted content makers in a way that Facebook has had some trouble with. YouTube’s sizable ad revenue shares, Patreon’s subscriptions and Twitch’s fan tipping are pulling creators away from Facebook.

So rather than immediately try to monetize this sponsored content, Facebook is launching the Brand Collabs Manager to prove to creators that it can get them paid indirectly. Facebook already offered a way for creators to tag their content with disclosure tags about brands they were working with. But now it’s going out of its way to facilitate the deals. Fan subscriptions and tipping come from the same motive: letting creators monetize through their audience rather than the platform itself.

Spinning up these initiatives to be more than third-rate knockoffs of Niche, YouTube, Patreon and Twitch will take some work. But hey, it’s cheaper for Facebook than paying these viral stars out of pocket.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook demands advertisers have consent for email/phone targeting

Facebook demands advertisers have consent for email/phone targeting

Facebook is hoping to avoid another privacy scandal by adding new accountability and transparency requirements for businesses that use its Custom Audiences too to target you with ads based on your email address or phone number. Starting July 2nd, advertisers will have to declare whether contact info uploaded for ad targeting was collected with proper user consent by them, one of their partners or both. Users will be able to see this info if they opt to block future ads from that business.

Companies can only share Custom Audiences info with partners like ad agencies if they’re formally connected through Facebook’s business manager tool. And Facebook will start to show advertisers reminders that they need consent for contact info ad targeting and force all users connected to an ad account to confirm these terms.

The new consent tool launch confirms TechCrunch’s scoop from March that Facebook would crack down on Custom Audiences targeting without consent. Facebook has always technically required consent, but it hasn’t necessarily done much to enforce those rules. That same approach to API rules produced the Cambridge Analytica debacle. Facebook began to safeguard Custom Audiences a few months ago when it blocked third-party data brokers like Datalogix and Acxiom from work with Facebook to upload data sets as Partner Categories that advertisers could target. But that still let businesses just upload the same data themselves.

[Update: Two days after the March announcement, Facebook also announced it would be shutting down Managed Custom Audiences, which let data brokers upload data sets on behalf of marketers. But in doing so, Facebook also formalized its policy that advertisers could still buy these data sets from data brokers and upload them themselves.]

Custom Audiences is one of Facebook’s most valuable revenue generators because it allows businesses to hit up their former customers to buy more. A scandal surrounding the targeting mechanism could be seriously detrimental to the social network’s business in a way that the rest of its recent public image problems haven’t, judging by the recovery of Facebook’s share price.

Since 2012, Facebook has offered Custom Audiences as a way for businesses to upload privacy-safe hashed lists of customer contact info. Facebook matches that against its users’ info to show them the business’ ads, rather than companies having to pay to try to reach those people through demographic targeting. That way, a company that already sold you a car and got your email signup could target you a few years later with ads to trade in and buy a new vehicle. Businesses can also use Facebook’s lookalikes targeting to reach people with similar characteristics to their existing customers.

Now at least Facebook will show this “Original Data Source” field asking who collected the uploaded phone numbers or emails. Users can check out this info if they click the “Why Am I Seeing This Ad?” button in the drop-down. However, Facebook stops short of scanning the lists for suspicious info, such as blocks of contact info that match hacked or purchased data sets.

That means Facebook is trusting advertisers to tell the truth about consent for targeting… despite them having a massive financial incentive to bend or break those rules. Today’s update will give Facebook more plausible deniability in the event of a scandal, and it might deter misuse. But Facebook is stopping short of doing anything to actually prevent non-consensual ad targeting.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Now Snapchat lets you unsend messages like Facebook promised

Now Snapchat lets you unsend messages like Facebook promised

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook messages were retracted from the inboxes of some users, six sources told TechCrunch in April. Facebook quickly tried to normalize that breach of trust by claiming it would in the coming months give everyone the ability to unsend messages. We haven’t heard a word about it since, and Facebook told me it had nothing more to share here today.

Well Snap is stepping up. Snapchat will let you retract your risqué, embarrassing or incriminating messages thanks to a new feature called Clear Chats that’s rolling out globally over the next few weeks.

Hold down on a text, image, video, memory, sticker or audio note in a one-on-one or group chat Snapchat message thread and you’ll see a Delete button. Tap it, and Snapchat will try to retract the message, though it admits it won’t always work if the recipient lacks an internet connection or updated version of the app. The recipient will also be notified… something Facebook didn’t do in the case of Zuckerberg’s messages.

The Clear Chats feature could make people more comfortable sending sensitive information over Snapchat. The app already auto-deletes messages after they’re viewed, unless a recipient chooses to screenshot or Save them, which their conversation partner can see. This could be especially useful for thwarting cases of revenge porn, where hackers or jilted ex-lovers expose someone’s nude images.

Unfortunately, the Clear Chats option could also be used to send then retract abusive messages, destroying the paper trail. Social media evidence is increasingly being used in divorce and custody battles, which an unsend feature might undermine… especially if Facebook goes through with rolling it out on its platform where messages are normally permanent. But right now, Snapchat’s priority is doing whatever it can to boost usage after hitting its slowest growth rate ever last quarter. If teens feel like Snapchat is a consequence-free place to message, whether or not that’s true, they might favor it over SMS and other social apps.

More Snapchat Spectacles and e-commerce news

Snap made a few other announcements today. Spectacles v2, which are actually pretty great and I continue to use, are now available for purchase through Amazon in the U.S., U.K and Canada. The $150 photo- and video-recording sunglasses come to more European countries via Jeff Bezos soon, such as France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Amazon will sell Spectacles in three color combos: Onyx Moonlight, Sapphire Twilight and Ruby Daybreak.

Until now, you could only buy v2 on Snap’s website. That’s because Snapchat’s eagerness to develop a bevy of sales channels made it very tough to forecast demand for its lackluster v1 Spectacles. They only sold 220,000. That led to hundreds of thousands of pairs gathering dust unsold in warehouses, and Snapchat taking an embarrassing $40 million write-off.

“We had an inventory challenge with v1,” Snap’s VP of hardware Mike Randall told me in April. “We don’t think it was a product issue. It was an internal understanding our demand issue versus a planning issue. So we think by having a more simplistic channel strategy with v2 we can more thoughtfully manage demand with v2 versus v1.” Working with Amazon and its robust toolset should help Snap get Spectacles in front of more buyers without obscuring how many it should be manufacturing.

Still, the worst thing about Spectacles is Snapchat. The inability to dump footage directly to your phone’s camera roll, and the incompatibility of its round media format with other social networks, means it’s tough to share your Spectacles content anywhere else while making it look good. Snap has experimented with a traditional landscape export format, but that hasn’t rolled out. Spectacles could strongly benefit from Snap partnering with fellow apps or open sourcing to let others show its circular always-full-screen format in all its glory.

Finally, Snapchat is launching a new e-commerce ad unit that shows a carousel of purchaseable items at the bottom of the screen that users can tap to buy without leaving the Snapchat app. This follows our prediction that Snap launching its own in-app merch store was really the foundation of a bigger e-commerce platform that’s now rolling out.

Merchants can use the Snap Pixel to measure how their ads lead to sales. The ability to shave down the e-commerce conversion funnel could get advertisers spending more on Snapchat when it could use the dollars. Last quarter it lost $385 million and missed its revenue target by $14 million.

Snapchat is also bringing its augmented reality advertisements to its self-serve ad-buying tool. They’re sold on an effective CPM basis for $8 to $20 depending on targeting. Snapchat is also turning its new multiplayer game filters, called Snappables, into ads.

Overall, it’s good to see Snapchat iterating across its software, hardware and business units. Plagued by executive departures, fierce competition from Facebook, a rough recent earnings report and share price troubles, it’s easy to imagine the team getting distracted. The long-term roadmap is fuzzy. With Stories becoming more popular elsewhere, Spectacles sales not being enough to right the ship and Instagram preparing to launch a long-form video hub that competes with Snapchat Discover, Snap needs to figure out its identity. Perhaps that will hinge on some flashy new feature that captures the imagination of the youth. That could be its upcoming Snapkit platform that will let users log into other apps using their Snapchat credentials, bring their Bitmoji, and even use Snap’s AR-equipped software camera within other apps.

But otherwise, it must lock in for a long-haul of efficient and methodical improvement. If it’s not growing, the best it can do is hold on to its core audience and squeeze as many dollars out of them as possible without looking desperate.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Facebook finally monetizes Marketplace with ads from users and brands

Facebook finally monetizes Marketplace with ads from users and brands

Twenty months after launching its Craigslist competitor, Marketplace, and relentlessly promoting it with placement in the main navigation bar, Facebook will start earning money off its classifieds section. Facebook today begins testing Marketplace ads in the U.S. that let average users pay to “Boost” their listing to more people through the News Feed. While they’re easy for novices, requiring buyers to only set a budget and how long the ads will run, there are no additional targeting options beyond being shown to age 18+ users in nearby ZIP codes.

Meanwhile, yesterday Facebook announced that it’s launching product ads from businesses that appear within Marketplace. After quietly opening in the U.S. in January and testing in Canada in May, Marketplace ads are now official, and can be bought in those two countries plus New Zealand and Australia. Businesses can extend their existing News Feed, video, Instagram, Messenger and other ad campaigns to Marketplace, and more types of objective-based campaigns will open to the classifieds section soon.

Facebook lets brands show ads within Marketplace

The Boost ads could be a big help if you need to rapidly liquidate your furniture before moving out, or if you’re trying to sell something big at a high price, like Marketplace’s new car, housing, jobs and home services offerings. Yet they seem inefficient, since the lack of targeting means your listing for men’s jewelry might show up to women, or your rock climbing gear ads could show up to senior citizens.

Facebook’s new Boost ads let average users pay to show their Marketplace listings to more people

But Facebook does tell me that ads will be auto-optimized for clicks, so when people start to click your ads, Facebook will show them to people of similar demographics. It will also immediately pause your ad campaign if you mark your item as sold. Boost ads get entered in alongside traditional bids in Facebook’s auction system, which then display what it predicts will be the most appealing ads.

“Many Marketplace sellers have told us that they want the ability to show a listing to more people in their local area, especially if they’re trying to sell it quickly,” Facebook product manager Harshit Agarwal tells TechCrunch. “We’re starting to test a simple way for sellers to boost their listings and help them find a buyer.” For comparison, Craigslist doesn’t run any ads, but charges sellers $5 to $10 for certain product listings for cars and brokered apartments.

One interesting quirk is that Facebook says it won’t allow boosting of listings of political products such as a Bernie Sanders for President t-shirt, as its political advertiser verification and labeling system only works with Pages and not individuals right now.

The Boost ads will only appear to a small percentage of U.S. users and Facebook says it’s too early to know if it will roll them out further. But as the company seems bent on swallowing up every other essential part of the internet, anything that makes Marketplace more useful to sellers and lucrative for the tech giant seems like a good bet for an official launch.

Together, the two formats could unlock new revenue streams for Facebook at a time when it’s starting to run out of ad inventory in the News Feed. The company either needs to open new surfaces like Marketplace to ads, or get people and businesses to pay more to fill its dwindling feed space if it wants to keep Wall Street happy.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

20 takeaways from Meeker’s 294-slide Internet Trends report

20 takeaways from Meeker’s 294-slide Internet Trends report

This is a must-read for understanding the tech industry. We’ve distilled famous investor Mary Meeker’s annual Internet Trends report down from its massive 294 slides of stats and charts to just the most important insights. Click or scroll through to learn what’s up with internet growth, screen addiction, e-commerce, Amazon versus Alibaba, tech investment and artificial intelligence.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Here’s Mary Meeker’s essential 2018 Internet Trends report

Want to understand all the most important tech stats and trends? Legendary venture capitalist Mary Meeker has just released the 2018 version of her famous Internet Trends report. It covers everything from mobile to commerce to the competition between tech giants. Check out the full report below, and we’ll add some highlights soon. Then come back for our slide-by-slide analysis of the most important parts of the 294 page report.

  • Internet adoption: As of 2018, half the world population, or about 3.6 billion people, will be on the internet. That’s thanks in large part to cheaper Android phones and Wifi becoming more available, though individual services will have a tougher time adding new users as the web hits saturation.
  • Mobile usage: While smartphone shipments are flat and internet user growth is slowing, U.S. adults are spending more time online thanks to mobile, clocking 5.9 hours per day in 2017 versus 5.6 hours in 2016.
  • Mobile ads: People are shifting their time to mobile faster than ad dollars are following, creating a $7 billion mobile ad opportunity, though platforms are increasingly responsible for providing safe content to host those ads.
  • Crypto: Interest in cryptocurrency is exploding as Coinbase’s user count has nearly quadrupled since January 2017
  • Voice: Voice technology is at an inflection point due to speech recognition hitting 95% accuracy and the sales explosion for Amazon Echo which went from over 10 million to over 30 million sold in total by the end of 2017.
  • Daily usage – Revenue gains for services like Facebook are tightly coupled with daily user growth, showing how profitable it is to become a regular habit.
  • Tech investment: We’re at an all-time high for public and private investment in technology, while the top six public R&D + capex spenders are all technology companies.

Mary Meeker, analyst with Morgan Stanley, speaks during the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010. This year’s conference, which runs through Nov. 17, is titled “Points of Control: The Battle for the Network Economy.” Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • Ecommerce vs Brick & Mortar: Ecommerce growth quickens as now 13% of all retail purchases happen online and parcel shipments are rising swiftly, signaling big opportunities for new shopping apps.
  • Amazon: More people start product searches on Amazon than search engines now, but Jeff Bezos still relies on other surfaces like Facebook and YouTube to inspire people to want things.
  • Subscription services: They’re seeing massive adoption, with Netflix up 25%, The New York Times up 43%, and Spotify up 48% year-over-year in 2017. A free tier accelerates conversion rates.
  • Education: Employees seek retraining and education from YouTube and online courses to keep up with new job requirements and pay off skyrocketing student loan debt.
  • Freelancing: Employees crave scheduling and work-from-home flexibility, and internet discovery of freelance work led it to grow 3X faster than total workforce growth. The on-demand workforce grew 23% in 2017 driven by Uber, Airbnb, Etsy, Upwork, and Doordash.
  • Transportation: People are buying fewer cars, keeping them longer, and shifting transportation spend to rideshare, which saw rides double in 2017.
  • Enterprise: Consumerization of the enterprise through better interfaces is spurring growth for companies like Dropbox and Slack.
  • China: Alibaba is expanding beyond China with strong gross merchandise volume, though Amazon still rules in revenue.
  • Privacy: China has a big opportunity as users there are much more willing to trade their personal data for product benefits than U.S. users, and China is claiming more spots on the top 20 internet company list while making big investments in AI.
  • Immigration: It is critical to a strong economy, as 56% of top U.S. companies were founded by a first- or second-generation immigrant.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch

GIF lord Imgur caves to video to hasten profitability

GIF lord Imgur caves to video to hasten profitability

Imgur is the internet’s best time sink, where 250 million monthly users silently consume an endless community-curated collection of absurd GIFs, inspiring tales, pop science explainers and giant meme dumps. But what it’s never had is video. That was a differentiator that made it ideal for quiet browsing in class, on public transit or in bed. Since none of the content required audio, you never had to worry about grabbing your headphones or disturbing those around you.

But the lack of video was also holding Imgur back. Sometimes you need to hear a crazy cat meow, or a baby giggling, or a crappy robot explode. So users would have to hunt down the “sauce,” aka the GIF’s source video, on another site. Oh, and advertisers love video and will pay a boatload more for it than a silent GIF or static image.

And so, Imgur is evolving with today’s launch of video. You can check them out, including this ream of popular GIFs reunited with their soundtracks, on the Imgur Unmuted channel.

The shift comes at a pivotal moment for the company. Launched in 2009, founder Alan Schaaf bootstrapped the startup to 130 million monthly visitors over the course of five years before finally taking a $40 million Series A from Andreessen Horowitz in 2014. Two years later it augmented its flimsy banner ads with full-screen promoted posts while trying not to damage the irreverent nature of the app.

Imgur’s Chief Operating Officer Roy Sehgal, its Sheryl Sandberg, tells me that as of recently “we were cash flow positive” before revealing “we expect to be profitable this year.”

Video could push Imgur to that milestone. The more organic video posts from users, the easier it will be for Imgur to slide in lucrative video ads. Facebook printed money with the same strategy, rolling out auto-play video in 2014 to pave the way for video ads that command high prices from businesses. Imgur recently began allowing video ads, but they stuck out, seeming to violate the app’s code of silence. Now Imgur is training its users to tolerate or even embrace audio and video.

Next comes video editing

Starting today, everyone can watch videos on Imgur, while iOS users can post video, with that opening to more people soon. Wisely, sound is off by default so you won’t get accidentally blasted, and technically you could just pretend they’re GIFs if you don’t click the audio button in the bottom right. They’re also limited to 30 seconds, so you won’t have lengthy YouTube reposts or as many copyright concerns, and they can be trimmed in the uploader.

“We’ve been making the transformation from an image community to a community-powered entertainment platform,” says Sehgal. Video could keep Imgur’s legion of users growing, and make sure they can experience today’s hottest content in whatever format it’s made for.

“We realized there was a vector of content we were not supporting that we thought our users would want,” Sehgal notes. The launch comes following the addition of much-requested Favorites folders and chat, and the Snapchat Stories-esque Snacks GIFs that no one asked for.

But video will bring a new sense of FOMO to those watching discretely. They’ll either have to swipe past the videos or miss the aural dimension. That could splinter Imgurians, who are otherwise united by a homescreen that shows identical top-rated content to everyone, unlike the fractured and personalized landing pages of most social networks. Some of Imgur’s funniest content relies on inside jokes powered by everyone having the right prerequisite knowledge from seeing the same things.

“They are definitely surprised,” says Sehgal, but he claims “the reaction has been very positive.” That’s not exactly clear from reading the Imgur Most Viral homepage, which just got a desktop redesign with bigger previews and easy access to popular tags you can explore. GIFs and still images still dominate and I’ve hardly seen any videos.

That could change as Imgur plans on equipping users with new editing tools to help them turn generic clips into weird and wacky stuff people love to upvote. Imgur’s existing Video-To-GIF creation tool has been a hit. Hopefully future editing tools will let people add custom subtitles, stickers, interjected titling screens and more. Those will be crucial to keep video from making Imgur generic.

Alan Schaaf, founder of Imgur, and his sister/community director Sarah Schaaf, speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt

The pivot to video may be inevitable for all online content. Combined with every app from Instagram to Netflix to Airbnb adopting Snapchat’s Stories, there’s an unsettling convergence going on. Video may be the most vivid and emotive medium. Yet we’ll lose something if there’s a social network singularity where they all have the same features.

Imgur is looking to become a business that’s palatable to a mass audience with video. But it must take care not to forfeit esoteric absurdity that’s made it a vacation from the overwhelming news and envy spiraling of other feeds.

Source: Mobile – Techcruch