The triumvirate of Amazon, Facebook and Google surge to even bigger dominance in the field.
Fueled by their ability to target audiences by attitudinal and intentional factors in addition to demographic characteristics, the “Big Three” platforms of Facebook, Amazon and Google were already heavy hitters in the advertising realm well-before COVID-19 burst on the scene.
To wit, they accounted for nearly 50% of all advertising expenditures in the United States in 2019.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, resulting in changes overnight in how people work and live. Thanks to lockdowns — and with more people than ever glued to digital platforms for everything from business communications to entertainment and online shopping — advertisers found the audience-targeting capabilities of the Big Three platform too irresistible.
So in 2020, even as every other kind of ad spending shrank – including double-digit drops seen in newspaper, TV and billboard advertising – online advertising continued to grow. Even more significantly, the biggest gains in online advertising accrued to the Big Three tech giants rather than to digital media sites and publishers that sell online ads.
When the dust settled, 2020 turned out to be the first year the Big Three swept up more than half of all ad dollars spent in the United States, according to an analysis by ad agency GroupM.
… And in online advertising specifically, the Big Three’s share jumped from an already dominant ~80% in 2019 to nearly 90% in 2020. Ad industry veteran Tim Armstrong (formerly in executive positions at AOL and Google), puts it succinctly:
“[The] companies that are data science-driven get stronger and faster with a tailwind of usage — and COVID was a hurricane.”
The coronavirus environment proved to be fertile ground for the Big Three even in areas previously inhospitable to them — including such categories as store promotions, catalogues and couponing.
As the nation emerges from the COVID environment in the coming months, one wonders if the newly dominant position of the Big Three will retrench in any meaningful way. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t bet money on it. But what are your thoughts?
Facebook has been resisting outside efforts to rein in its “faceprints” facial recognition initiative – and mostly losing.
I’ve blogged before about the concerns many people have about facial recognition technology, and the troubling implications of the technology being misused in the wrong hands.
Facebook would claim to be the “right hands” rather than wrong ones when it comes to the database of “faceprints” it’s been compiling over the past decade or so. But its initiative has run afoul of an Illinois biometric privacy law passed in 2008.
The Illinois measure, which prohibits companies from collecting or storing people’s biometric data without their consent, is one of the strongest pieces of legislation of its kind in that it also allows individual consumers to sue for damages – to the tune of up to $5,000 per violation.
And that’s precisely what’s happened. A class-action suite was filed in 2015 by a group of Illinois residents, alleging that Facebook has violated the Illinois privacy law through its photo-tagging function which draws on a trove of “faceprint” photos to recognize faces and suggest their names when they appear in photos uploaded by friends on Facebook.
Facebook has vigorously resisted efforts to rein in its faceprint initiative, arguing that any such lawsuits should be dismissed because users haven’t actually been injured by any alleged violations of the state law.
That stance has been rejected – first in U.S. district court and then in the court of appeals. Undaunted, Facebook appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which turned down the appeal in late January.
Rebuffed at all legal levels, Facebook has now decided to settle the suit for a reported $550 million, including payments of ~$200 each to claimants in the Illinois class-action suit.
Facebook has lost, but the whole notion of facial recognition technology could well be like playing a game of whack-a-mole. As it turns out, another firm has developed similar functionality and is busily selling facial recognition data to police departments across North America. According to a recent investigative article publishing in The New York Times, a company called Clearview AI has mined billions of photos from Twitter, Facebook and other social platforms. (Clearview is now being sued in Illinois for allegedly violating the same biometric privacy law that was at the center of the Facebook suit.)
And indeed, the efforts to rein in facial recognition activities may be a little too little, a little too late: According to a recent report from Business Insider, the faces of more than half of all adults in America have already been logged into police or government databases.
… Which brings us to a parallel response that appears to be gaining traction: figuring out ways to fool facial recognition software. A number of entrepreneurs are developing intriguing methods to beat facial recognition software. Among them are:
Clothing designers have begun to target weaknesses in the ability of facial recognition software to process overlapping or unusual shapes, as well as deciphering multiple similar images appearing in close proximity. One such example is a pair of goggles fitted with near-infrared LEDs that interfere with the ability to scan facial features.
Headscarves decorated with different faces “confuse” the software by overloading it with excessive amounts of data in the form of numerous facial features.
So-called “adversarial patches” – a graphic print that can be added to clothing – exploit the vulnerabilities in facial recognition scanning by making a person “virtually invisible for automatic surveillance cameras,” according to creators Simen Thys, Wiebe Van Ranst and Toon Goedemé.
Will the two-front attack on facial recognition technology from the legal as well as technology standpoint succeed in putting the facial recognition genie back in the bottle? It’s debatable. But it’s certainly making things more of a challenge for the Facebooks and Clearviews of the world.
Watching Facebook these days as it pivots from diffusing one “rude development” to another seems a little like watching someone perform a combination plate-spinning and whack-a-mole act.
We’ll call it the Facebook Follies. The question is … is it working?
Last month, Facebook issued its newest Community Enforcement Report – a document that updates the world about improvements the social media giant is making to its platform to enable it to live up to its stated community standards.
Among the improvements touted by the latest report:
Facebook reports now that ~5% of monthly active accounts are fake. (Still, 5% represents nearly 120 million users.)
Facebook reports now that its ability to automatically detect “hate speech” in social posts has jumped from a ~24% incidence in 2018 to ~65% today. (But this means that one-third of hate speech posts are still going undetected.)
Moreover, Facebook now reports that for every 10,000 times Facebook content is viewed by users:
~25 views contain content that violates Facebook’s violence policy
~14 views contain content violating Facebook’s adult nudity and sexual activity policy
Fewer than 3 views contain content violating Facebook’s policies for each of these categories: global terrorism; child nudity, and sexual exploitation
The community enforcement information is being reported as “wins” for Facebook … but people can’t be faulted for thinking that Facebook could (and should) be doing much better.
On a different type of matter, this past week it was reported that Facebook has agreed to settle a class-action complaint that accused the social platform of inflating viewing metrics on Facebook videos by up to 900%.
Although details of the settlement haven’t been revealed, this development appears to close the book on criticisms that were lodged as far back as 2016, in which advertisers charged that Facebook hadn’t investigated and corrected errors in its metrics — nor allowed for third-party verification of the metrics.
It’s yet another agenda item that’s now been ticked off the list – at least in Facebook’s eyes. But now another controversy has now erupted as reported over the past few days in The Wall Street Journal.
Described in a front-page article bylined by veteran WSJ reporters John McKinnon, Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and Jeff Horwitz, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears linked to “potentially problematic privacy practices” that date all the way back to 2012, when Facebook signed a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission but that it may have violated subsequently.
Contemporaneous e-mail communications retrieved from the time period suggest that Zuckerberg was more than merely passively involved in deliberations about a particular app that claimed to have built a database stocked with information about millions of Facebook users. Purportedly, the app developer had the ability to display the Facebook user information to others — regardless of those users’ privacy settings on Facebook. The e-mails in question detail speculation about how many other apps were stockpiling such kinds of user data, but the evidence shows little or no subsequent action being taken to shut down the data mining activities.
These latest developments raise questions about the veracity of Facebook’s stated intentions to redouble its efforts to uphold community standards and focus more on user privacy, including moving toward encrypted and “ephemeral” messaging products that are better aligned with the European Union’s existing privacy laws that the United States may also be poised to adopt in the future.
Apparently Facebook recognizes the problem: It’s ramping up its global advertising spending to “rebuild trust” — to the tune of doubling its previous ad expenditures. Here’s what Facebook’s marketing head Antonio Lucio is saying:
“There’s no question we made mistakes, and we’re in the process of addressing them one after the other. But we have to tell that story to the world on the trust side as well as the value site.”
Ad-tracking company Kantar notes a big increase already in Facebook’s U.S. ad spending — up to nearly $385 million in 2018 compared to only around $50 million the year before. As for the campaigns themselves, Facebook is relying on a number of big-name ad agencies like Wieden+Kennedy, Leo Burnett and Ogilvy for developing its various campaigns.
There’s more than a little irony in that.
Considering the latest news items, what are your thoughts about Facebook? Are they on the right track … or is it “too little, too late”? Are their intentions honorable … or are they simply engaged in “window dressing” to get people off their case? Let us know your thoughts.
One has to assume it’s a citation Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has tried mightily to avoid receiving. But with a massive data breach last year and poor marketing decision-making accompanied by a wave of bad publicity, it shouldn’t come as a major shock that Facebook is now considered the least trusted major technology brand by consumers.
The real surprise is by how much it outscores everyone else. Really, Facebook’s in a class by itself.
Recently, online survey research firm Toluna conducted a poll of ~1,000 adults age 18 or older in which it asked respondents to identify their “least trusted” technology company.
The results of the survey show the degree to which Facebook has become the “face” of everything that’s wrong with trust in the world of technology.
Here’s what Toluna’s found when it asked consumers to name the technology company they trusted least with their personal information:
Facebook: ~40% of respondents trust least
Google (Gmail): ~6%
The yawning gap between Facebook’s unflattering perch at the top of the listing and the next most-cited companies — Amazon and Twitter — says everything anyone needs to know about the changing fortunes of company image and how fast public opinion can turn against it.
About the only thing worse is not showing up on the Top 10 list at all – which is the case for Oath (the parent of Yahoo and AOL). That entity has become so inconsequential, it doesn’t even enter into the conversation anymore. That’s a “diss” on a completely different level, of course. As Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is … not being talked about.”
What about you? Do you think that Facebook should be tops on this list? Let us know your opinion below.
Lawmakers’ cringeworthy questioning of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg calls into question the government’s ability to regulate social media.
With the testimony on Capitol Hill last week by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, there’s heightened concern about the negative side effects of social media platforms. But in listening to lawmakers questioning Zuckerberg, it became painfully obvious that our Federal legislators have next to no understanding of the role of advertising in social media – or even how social media works in its most basic form.
Younger staff members may have written the questions for their legislative bosses, but it was clear that the lawmakers were ill-equipped to handle Zuckerberg’s alternatively pat, platitudinous and evasive responses and to come back with meaningful follow-up questions.
Even the younger senators and congresspeople didn’t acquit themselves well.
It made me think of something else, too. The questioners – and nearly everyone else, it seems – are missing this fundamental point about social media: Facebook and other social media platforms aren’t much different from old-fashioned print media, commercial radio and TV/cable in that that they all generate the vast bulk of their earnings from advertising.
It’s true that in addition to advertising revenues, print publications usually charge subscribers for paper copies of their publications. In the past, this was because 1) they could … but 2) also to help defray the cost of paper, ink, printing and physical distribution of their product to news outlets or directly to homes.
Commercial radio and TV haven’t had those costs, but neither did they have a practical way of charging their audiences for broadcasts – at least not until cable and satellite came along – and so they made their product available to their audiences at no charge.
The big difference between social media platforms and traditional media is that social platforms can do something that the marketers of old could only dream about: target their advertising based on personally identifiable demographics.
Think about it: Not so many years ago, the only demographics available to marketers came from census publications, which by law cannot reveal any personally identifiable information. Moreover, the U.S. census is taken only every ten years, so the data ages pretty quickly.
Beyond census information, advertisers using print media could rely on audit reports from ABC and BPA. If it was a business-to-business publication, some demographic data was available based on subscriber-provided information (freely provided in exchange for receiving those magazines free of charge). But in the case of consumer publications, the audit information wouldn’t give an advertiser anything beyond the number of copies printed and sold, and (sometimes) a geographic breakdown of where mail subscribers lived.
Advertisers using radio or TV media had to rely on researchers like Nielsen — but that research surveyed only a small sample of the audience.
What this meant was that the only way advertisers could “move the needle” in a market was to spend scads of cash on broadcasting their messages to the largest possible audience. As a connecting mechanism, this is hugely inefficient.
The value proposition that Zuckerberg’s Facebook and other social media platforms provide is the ability to connect advertisers with more people for less spend, due to these platforms’ abilities to use personally identifiable demographics for targeting the advertisements.
Want to find people who enjoy doing DIY projects but who live just in areas where your company has local distribution of your products? Through Facebook, you can narrow-cast your reach by targeting consumers involved with particular activities and interests in addition to geography, age, gender, or whatever other characteristics you might wish to use as filters.
That’s massively more efficient and effective than relying on something like median household income within a zip code or census tract. It also means that your message will be more targeted — and hence more relevant — to the people who see it.
All of this is immensely more efficient for advertisers, which is why social media advertising (in addition to search advertising on Google) has taken off while other forms of advertising have plateaued or declined.
But there’s a downside: Social media is being manipulated (“abused” might be the better term) by “black hats” – people who couldn’t do such things in the past using census information or Nielsen ratings or magazine audit statements.
Here’s another reality: Facebook and other social media platforms have been so fixated on their value proposition that they failed to conceive of — or plan for — the behavior inspired by the evil side of humanity or those who feel no guilt about taking advantage of security vulnerabilities for financial or political gain.
Now that that reality has begun to sink in, it’ll be interesting to see how Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook — not to mention other social media business leaders — respond to the threat.
They’ll need to do something — and it’ll have to be something more compelling than CEO Zuckerberg’s constant refrain at the Capitol Hill hearings (“I’ll have my team look into that.”) or COO Sandberg’s litany (“I’m glad you asked that question, because it’s an important one.”) on her parade of TV/cable interviews. The share price of these companies’ stock will continue to pummeled until investors understand what changes are going to be made that will actually achieve concrete results.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that the advertising marketplace in America has changed radically in the past few years.
In short order, we’ve seen the largest concentration of digital advertising converge on just two players: Google and Facebook. In fact, according to digital advertising research firm eMarketer, those two firms alone are attracting two-thirds of all digital ad dollars in the United States.
But this development isn’t all that surprising. The vast bulk of Google’s ad market share results from its search engine marketing platform (paid search). As for Facebook, it dominates digital display advertising not just in America, but in many other countries all over the world as well.
And both companies are the “big kahuna” players in the mobile advertising sector, too.
What’s interesting is that, despite the shortcomings that many people recognize in both types of digital advertising – banner blindness and often ill-targeted paid search results — healthy growth in both forms of advertising continues apace.
Google’s ad revenue growth has average around 20% for more than 30 straight quarters. Its growth in the third quarter of 2017 is right on pace at 22%.
For Facebook, the growth dynamics are particularly lucrative; its year-over-year ad revenue growth is pushing 50%.
Mobile ad revenues are growing even faster; they accounted for “only” $9 billion in revenues for Facebook in just the third quarter. And just as paid search advertising revenues represent more than 90% of Google’s total company revenues, mobile advertising accounts for nearly 90% of Facebook’s overall revenues.
With so much advertising activity, one might wonder from where it’s emanating.
One answer to that question is that the “universe” of advertisers is exponentially higher than we’ve ever encountered before. With low barriers to entry and “anyone can do it” ad development tools, “Jane and John Doe” are far more likely to be advertisers in today’s world of digital marketing than was ever contemplated just a few decades ago.
To wit: Facebook estimates that its social platform has more than 6 million active advertisers participating on it at any given moment in time. That’s the equivalent of 2% of the entire population of America.
There are a growing number of reasons why more marketers these days are referring to the largest social media platform as “Fakebook.”
Back last year, it came to light that Facebook’s video view volumes were being significantly overstated – and the outcry was big enough that the famously tightly controlled social platform finally agreed to submit its metrics reporting to outside oversight.
To be sure, that decision was “helped along” by certain big brands threatening to significantly cut back their Facebook advertising or cease it altogether.
Now comes another interesting wrinkle. According to Facebook’s statistics, the social network claims it can reach millions of Americans across several important age demographics, as follows:
18-24 year-olds: ~41 million people
25-34 year-olds: ~60 million people
35-49 year-olds: ~61 million people
There’s one slight problem with these stats: U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that the total number of people living in the United States falling in the 18-49 age grouping is 137 million.
That’s a substantially lower figure than the 162 million people counted by Facebook – 25 million (18%) smaller, to be precise.
What could be the reason(s) for the overcount? As reported by Business Insider journalist Alex Heath, a Facebook spokesperson has attributed the “over-counting” to foreign tourists engaging with Facebook’s platform while they’re in the United States.
That seems like a pretty lame explanation – particularly since U.S. tourism outside the country is a reciprocal activity that likely cancels out foreign tourism.
There’s also the fact that there are multiple Facebook accounts maintained by some people. But it stretches credulity to think that multiple accounts explain more than a small portion of the differential.
Facebook rightly points out that its audience reach stats are designed to estimate how many people in a given geographic area are eligible to see an ad that a business might choose to run, and that this projected reach has no bearing on the actual delivery and billing of ads in a campaign.
In other words, the advertising would be reaching “real” people in any case.
Still, such discrepancies aren’t good to have in an environment where many marketers already believe that social media advertising promises more than it actually delivers. After all, “reality check” information like this is just a click away in cyberspace …
In the wake of recent election campaigns and referenda in places like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Austria and the Philippines, it seems that everyone’s talking about “fake news” these days.
People all across the political and socio-economic spectrum are questioning whether the publishing and sharing of “faux” news items is having a deleterious impact on public opinion and actually changing the outcome of consequential events.
The exact definition of the term is difficult to discern, as some people are inclined to level the “fake news” charge against anyone with whom they disagree.
Beyond this, I’ve noticed that some people assign nefarious motives – political or otherwise – to the dissemination of all such news stories. Often the motive is different, however, as over-hyped headlines – many of them having nothing to do with politics or public policy but instead focusing on celebrities or “freak” news events – serve as catnip-like clickbait for viewers who can’t resist their curiosity to find out more.
And to underscore how many people are using Facebook versus more traditional news outlets as a “major” source for their news, this BuzzFeed chart showing the Top 15 information sources says it all:
CNN: ~27% of respondents use as a “major source” of news
Fox News: ~27%
New York Times: ~18%
Google News: ~17%
Yahoo News: ~16%
Washington Post: ~12%
Huffington Post: ~11%
BuzzFeed News: ~8%
Business Insider: ~7%
Drudge Report: ~5%
Facebook’s algorithm change in 2016 to emphasize friends’ posts over publishers’ has turned that social platform into a pretty big hotbed of fake news activity, as people can’t resist sharing even the most outlandish stories to their network of friends.
Never mind Facebook’s recent steps to change the dynamics by sponsoring fact-checking initiatives and banning fraudulent websites from its ad network; by the accounts I’ve read, it hasn’t done all that much to curb the orgy of misinformation.
Automated ad buying isn’t helping at all either, as it’s enabling the fake news “ecosystem” big-time. As Digiday senior editor Lucia Moses explains it:
“One popular method … is tapping the competitive market for native ad widgets. Taboola, Revcontent, Adblade and Content.ad are prominently displayed on sites identified with fake news, while there are a few retargeted and programmatic ads sprinkled in. Publishers install these native ad widgets with a simple snippet of code — typically after an approval process — and when readers click on paid links in the widget, the host publisher makes money. The ads are made to appear like related-content suggestions and often promote sensational headlines and direct-marketing offers.”
So attempting to solve the “fake news” problem is a lot more complicated than some people might realize – and it certainly isn’t going to improve because of any sort of “political” change of heart. Forrester market analyst Susan Bidel sums it up thus:
“While steps taken by … entities to curb fake news are admirable, as long as fake news generators can make money from their efforts, the problem won’t go away.”
So there we are. Bottom-line, fake news is going to be with us for the duration – whether people like it or not.
What about you? Do you think you can spot every fake news story? Or do you think at least of few of them come in below radar?
More specifically, nearly two thirds of the 2,000+ Americans age 18 and older surveyed by Pew (~63%) reported that they’re getting news reporting from Facebook.
A similar percentage reported receiving news from Twitter as well.
That compares with ~52% reporting that they received news from Twitter back in 2013 … and ~47% from Facebook.
Although both of these social networks now have the same portion of people getting news from these two sources, the Pew research discovered some nuanced differences as to their strengths.
A far bigger portion of people follow “breaking news” on Twitter compared to Facebook (~59% versus ~31%), which underscores Twitter’s strength in providing immediate “as-it-happens” coverage and commentary on live events.
Seeing such behaviors, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that both social networks have been implementing more initiatives that strengthen their positions as news sources even more:
Facebook has launched Instant Articles, a functionality that allows media companies to publish stories directly to the Facebook platform instead of linking to outside websites.
Facebook has also introduced a new Trending sidebar that allows users to filter news by major topic categories such as sports, entertainment, politics, technology and science.
Twitter has introduced live events to its roster, thanks to its purchase of the live video-streaming app Periscope.
A related Twitter initiative, dubbed Moments (aka: Project Lightning), allows anyone – even a person without a Twitter account – to view ongoing feeds of tweets, images and videos pertaining to live events.
According to Pew, news exposure is on social media roughly equal among all demographic factors including gender, ethnicity and income. The one exception, of course, is age.
All of these developments underscore the fact that the “traditional” TV, print and online outlets are no longer dominant when it comes to news consumption. And it’s highly unlikely that the trend will ever be reversed, either.
Which was the most popular smartphone app in the United States during 2015? If you guessed Facebook, you’d be correct.
According to Nielsen estimates, the Facebook app notched more than 125 million average unique users per month during 2015. It was an ~8% increase in the app’s user volume over the previous year.
The second most popular smartphone app was YouTube, but at fewer than 100 million, its average unique user volume was substantially lower than Facebook’s.
The Nielsen estimates are calculated based on a monthly survey of 30,000+ mobile subscribers age 13 and older in the United States, as well as a panel of ~9,000 English-speaking adults (age 18+).
Here is Nielsen’s “Top Ten” chart for the most popular smartphone apps in 2015:
Facebook app: ~127 million average unique monthly users
YouTube: ~98 million
Facebook Messenger: ~96 million
Google Search: ~95 million
Google Play: ~90 million
Google Maps: ~88 million
Gmail: ~75 million
Instagram: ~56 million
Apple Music: ~55 million
Apple Maps: ~47 million
Within the top ten list, the two apps with the highest user growth in 2015 were Facebook Messenger, which charted an increase in average monthly users of ~31%, and Apple Music, with ~26% growth.
Also noted by Nielsen, the level of smartphone penetration ticked up yet again in 2015, so that today four out of five mobile subscribers are using a smartphone rather than a feature phone.
As for the ongoing competition between Apple and Android for smartphone hegemony, it remains a real donnybrook but with Android ahead.
As of Q3 2015, Android devices represented ~52.5% of the subscriber base whereas ~42.5% of Americans used Apple iOS devices to access their apps. (The remainder is made up of Blackberry users and phones operating on Windows.)
Additional information about the Nielsen evaluation and analysis can be viewed here. It will be interesting to see how these trends might change in 2016. Would anyone care to make any predictions?