Last week’s news of Google being fined 2.4 billion euros has been a shock to the industry, but no doubt is still resonating harshly within the offices of Google. The general opinion seems to be that Google has been less than transparent in a number of areas and yet in our current climate, there is nothing more important than protecting all traders, whether that be the buyer, seller or platform.
Controversially, questions are indeed being asked as to whether Google is competing with its advertisers by learning what works and what doesn’t and then using it for their own competitive advantage.
Previously, Google has been accused of putting itself as the pass back in waterfall deals ahead of SSPs (Supply Side Platforms) or other sources via its Google Ad Exchange, which has resulted in a significant loss to publishers. These allegations have yet to be confirmed or qualified but it has led to transparency concerns. The recent case of Guardian suing Rubicon, "Truth Behind the Lack of Transparency", written by Impact Radius' director of communications, Julia Smith, cited the fact that there has been a practice of favouring certain channels when it comes to spending, leaning towards those that are part of the same holding company or have trading deals in place which benefit the intermediary. As a result, agencies are increasingly coming under the microscope for creating pipelines that funnel money back into the overall holding company via their DSP (Demand Side Platform) and ATD (Agency Trading Desk).
We are not here to be judge, juror and executioner on the legal decision made by the EU, but to simply reaffirm the importance of transparency in these cases. We must all welcome ethical trading. Most importantly we have a duty to protect all traders by providing a platform that allows them to accurately track and control where money is spent and how the money performed. In short, marketers need to take back control, publishers need to protect their inventory and agencies need to ensure their performance is accurately accounted for.
Whether Google was fairly or unfairly fined, moving forward they must tread carefully and prove they have nothing to hide. If Google can't be trusted, can our industry be again brought into disrepute? Hopefully, the result of the fine will be that Google invests in ensuring ethical trading and real transparency and that the whole industry focuses on measurement, attribution and transparency.
David A.Yovanno, CEO of Impact Radius adds another interesting advertiser viewpoint: ”I think the debate is about Google competing with its advertisers. Similar to news sources, people want them to report news as facts, and not be swayed by opinion. In this case, brands want a partner they can buy ads from, without worrying about whether Google will learn what works and what doesn’t, and then go into direct competition with them with a competitive advantage using insights learned from their programs and total control over placement and distribution.”
Yovanno makes an interesting point and raises a highly valid concern around how Google has played hard and fast with access to everyone’s data and allegedly used it for their own benefit. Will the industry be sympathetic to the recent significant fine? Probably not. Whether the fine is fair or valid is not for us to contest. What has been brought into question is the fact that Google thought they were playing by their own rules whilst the rest of the industry had to tow the line. The playing field needs to be levelled and transparency, results, tracking and above all, legality need to be the rules to which we all adhere to going forward.