Good morning. It’s a question many of us have pondered over the years: Is Facebook listening to me through my phone’s microphone to serve me ads based on what I say? The answer’s still no. WSJ personal tech columnist Joanna Stern spells out why Facebook doesn’t need to: With the help of third-party data collectors, Facebook can help advertisers get a sense of where you shopped, where you’ve been, which apps you’re using, the websites you’ve visited and who you are (all “hashed” into anonymized data so advertisers can’t identify you personally, of course).
The drama continues at Newsweek Media Group. On Wednesday, the company said it had fired two engineers it claimed were linked with running code on its International Business Times sites that potentially juiced its ad viewability numbers, I reported for CMO Today, along with my colleague Lukas Alpert. Before that, some ad-tech companies, including AppNexus and SpotX, told me they had ended their relationships with NMG over invalid traffic concerns. Ad verification service, DoubleVerify, has given four of IBTimes’ websites, plus Newsweek.co.uk, its “Sophisticated Invalid Traffic Sites” designation, which automatically prevents its brand advertiser customers from appearing on those sites. For its part, NMG said the code has been removed and it soon plans to regularly publish its invalid-traffic numbers, which will be verified by Media Rating Council-accredited ad verification services. NMG also said its latest invalid traffic numbers were below the 3.1% industry average.
Pulling Up the Drawbridge
There has been some discussion in the ad industry about how location-based advertising and so-called cross-device data companies (which help marketers track users as they switch from one device to another) will be able to get themselves GDPR-compliant. Most don’t tend to have direct relationships with consumers to ask permission to collect their data for use in advertising services. One such cross-device identity company, Drawbridge, is getting ahead of the new regulation by getting out of the ad business altogether in Europe, AdExchanger’s James Hercher reports. Drawbridge CEO Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan said while the company is still searching for ways to implement GDPR for its data business, she’s still looking for “clarity about how the industry at large is ensuring consent for consumers.” If other cross-device identity companies also see no way past the GDPR fortress, that could arguably place Google and Facebook in a stronger position in Europe as they at least have well-known brands and platforms consumers use frequently in order to ask for consent (although people still have the option to say “no”).
The Daily Beast’s Taylor Lorenz has been doing a stellar job in recent months of keeping us up-to-date with all the latest teen internet trends. Remember slime? Forget it. Slime’s soooo 2017. Now the new viral trend is soap. Carving soap, dissolving soap, mutli-colored soap: Soapstagram is honestly an actual thing. Similar to slime before it, the current soap bubble slots cleanly into the wider ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) trend, where, triggered by certain visuals and sounds like soft whispering or someone gently leafing through the pages of a book, some people feel a relaxing, sometimes tingling sensation. A little creepy for some, sure, but Instagram accounts like @asmr_soap_princess are racking up hundreds of thousands of followers as people search for a soothing dose of escapism in their social feeds. A boon for soap bar marketers? Well, so long as Instagrammers don’t pivot to eating them…
A newsletter exclusive: Undertone, the ad-tech company that was acquired by Israeli marketing software company Perion Network for $180 million in 2015, is paring back its European operation, closing its German office and reducing its U.K. hub from 20 staffers to five. “Undertone’s business in EMEA has recently shifted to a programmatic-first strategy,” an Undertone spokeswoman said in a statement. “This change directly aligns with the way our clients are asking to transact with us in the region.” (No mention of GDPR in this statement.) Another ad tech company, the rich media and video marketplace JustPremium, has scooped up all five people from Undertone’s Germany office and five people from its U.K. operation, including Undertone’s former EMEA director Rob Garber. That brings JustPremium to 110 global employees, which CEO Eric Visser says will help it on its mission to “prove that the legacy ad tech giants can be challenged by both startups and scaleups with the right balance of innovation and creativity.”
Best of the rest
A McDonald’s restaurant in California flipped its famous golden arches sign upside-down to celebrate International Women’s Day. [CNN]
Univision’s board is preparing to search for new leadership and is undertaking a business review that could lead to large cost cuts, both shortly after the Spanish-language broadcaster canceled plans for an IPO. Despite having a contract through January 2020, CEO Randy Falco told the board he would like to retire at the end of 2018. [WSJ]
Early data from ad tech startup AdStage suggest ad prices increased on Facebook after it rolled out its algorithm change, as many in the industry had predicted. [Recode]
Coca-Cola is about to trial its first alcoholic beverage product in Japan. [WSJ]
Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel said in an interview he is still pursuing what remains of Gawker through the courts, alleging that Hulk Hogan is still owed some money from the sale of the sites. However, Mr. Thiel said he doesn’t want Gawker’s archives, as some people had speculated, adding, “I don’t think it makes sense to destroy them.” [NYT]
And finally: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they…become sentient beings and destroy you and everyone you once loved. Some Amazon Alexa users recently reported their devices began letting out super-creepy, unprompted laughs. Amazon has issued a fix. Humans 1—0 Our Robot Overlords. [The Verge]