2019.09.06 Last Week in Digital Media

Welcome back to Last Week in Digital Media. This week is technically the last few weeks, as I will include some updates from mid-late August that I have not previously shared given I was on vacation. It also means the newsletter is extra long – effectively a post vacation bumper issue!

It’s impossible to start without the biggest news of the week, the Google / YouTube FTC fine.

The FTC issued a US$170MM fine to Google/YouTube for alleged violations of children’s privacy (COPPA compliance) specifically “[the] service illegally collected personal information from children without their parents’ consent”. The basic premise of the FTC decision is that YouTube content intended for or targeted towards children collected and used personal information for targeted advertising. The impact of the FTC decision will be felt globally as YouTube will be required to make a number of changes to their platform most of which are detailed in a YouTube blog post that responds to the FTC findings.

YouTube will treat any content featuring children content as if it was being watched by a child; no longer serving personalized ads on children’s content; comments and notifications will not be available on children’s content; there will be more proactive marketing of YouTube Kids (including a dedicated YouTube Kids website); and a US$100MM 3 year fund to invest in children’s content. According to Google’s blog post, some of the changes such as ads, comments, notifications, will come into effect over the next 4 months.

The FTC finding could also have a future impact on creators who don’t properly label their content. As there is an expectation creator’s must label content although YouTube will use Machine Learning and AI to verify classifications. It does seem like children’s content is the next battleground for the FTC. Somewhat lost in all of the YouTube noise last week, the group Truth in Advertising filed a complaint with the FTC (PDF link) that kid-influencer Ryan ToysReview promotes products to children allegedly without effective disclosures.

The YouTube FTC fine is not without critics, most arguing it’s too small. For perspective, $170MM equals a few hours/days of Google’s revenue. It’s easy to argue the fine is small but from a practical perspective, given the changes being implemented on YouTube, the impact to creators, and the broader signal to the industry the FTC finding will make impact well beyond YouTube.

Here’s the other news you may have missed:




There are multiple stories circulating about group of State Attorney Generals looking to move forward with a with a joint antitrust investigation of big tech all of which are starting to move swiftly towards official statements:


  • Pinterest has taken a proactive and leadership position to surface authoritative and quality content on vaccinations to combat health misinformation. This includes creating tools for health organizations to create compelling content that will work well on Pinterest. Pinterest deserves a lot of credit for their action, as it was shortly followed by Facebook launching a pop-up window that directs people to credible information when they search for vaccine related terms on the platform.
  • There’s a post on the Chromium blog (which underpins Google’s Chrome browser) outlining a “Privacy Sandbox”. There’s a rabbit-hole of follow up posts you can then read. In simple terms part of Google’s proposal solves for preventing browser fingerprinting by setting rules that would only allow an individual to be identified against a large cohort not down to the individual. As part of this, there’s also a write up on how conversion measurement could still be tracked but retain privacy. If you’re technically minded, take the time to read all of the posts and shows how Google is thinking about privacy.
  • The above Google approach is in stark contrast to the one recently offered up by the IAB Tech Lab, which is a unique user token that would store your advertising preferences and work across multiple publishers. Having read through the proposal, even with the proposed enforcement mechanisms, it feels like a single user token would be relatively open to abuse.
  • there’s an random post that popped up on Facebook about data portability that also links to a data portability discussion paper (PDF link). Between-the-lines it could be interpreted as Facebook attempting to show it wants to encourage competition. The post does reference the Data Transfer Project (of which most of the major platforms and tech. companies are members) one of the more interesting industry initiatives around data.
  • YouTube published a lengthy post about what they’re doing to clean up the platform under what they are calling the 4 Rs of Responsibility “Remove, Raise, Reward, Reduce”. This post focused on Remove or content that has been taken down from YouTube and claims to have taken down 100k+ videos for hate speech violations, 17k+ channels, and 500MM comments. YouTube claims 80% of the offending content was removed automatically without receiving a single view.
  • a security researcher found a database of 419MM Facebook users including phone numbers (and in some cases gender and location) on an unsecured server. The data includes users across multiple countries. The data is now offline and and it is not known who scraped it.
  • Linked In published a blog post revealing it took action on 21.5MM fake Linked In accounts in the first half of 2019. Of these, 95% were stopped during registration.
  • Facebook released details about their long promised Clear History tool now called “Off Facebook Activity”. It provides a way to clear data collected by websites and apps off Facebook but shared back with the platform for use in targeted advertising. For now, the ability to disconnect / clear off Facebook activity is only available in Ireland, South Korea and Spain. Facebook has admitted that the Clear Off Facebook Activity tool may dent revenues.

Thanks for reading and hope you have a great week. Please never hesitate to drop me a line to share your thoughts about this newsletter.