What does Meta/Facebook’s favorite new phrase to bandy around in awkward earnings calls — as it warns of “regulatory headwinds” cutting into its future growth — actually mean when you unpack it?
It’s starting to look like this breezy wording means the law is finally catching up with murky adtech practices which have been operating under the radar for years — tracking and profiling web users without their knowledge or consent, and using that surveillance-gleaned intel to manipulate and exploit at scale regardless of individual objections or the privacy people have a legal right to expect.
This week a major decision in Europe found that a flagship ad industry tool which — since April 2018 — has claimed to be gathering people’s “consent” for tracking to run behavioral advertising has not in fact been doing so lawfully.
The IAB Europe was given two months to come up with a reform plan for its erroneously named Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF) — and a hard deadline of six months to clean up the associated parade of bogus pop-ups and consent mismanagement which force, manipulate or simply steal (“legitimate interest”) web users’ permission to microtarget them with ads.
The implications of the decision against the IAB and its TCF are that major ad industry reforms must come — and fast.
This is not just a little sail realignment as Facebook’s investor-soothing phrase suggests. And investors are perhaps cottoning on to the scale of the challenges facing the adtech giant’s business — given the 20% drop in its share price as it reported Q4 earnings this week.
Facebook’s ad business is certainly heavily exposed to any regulatory hurricane of enforcement against permission-less Internet tracking since it doesn’t offer its own users any opt out from behavioral targeting.
When asked about this the tech giant typically points to its “data policies” — where it instructs users it will track them and use their data for personalized ads but doesn’t actually ask for their permission. (It also claims any user data it sucks into its platform from third parties for ad targeting has been lawfully gathered by those partners in one long chain of immaculate adtech compliance!)
Fb also typically points to some very limited “controls” it provides users over the type of personalized ads they will be exposed to via its ad tools — instead of actually giving people genuine control over what’s done with their information which would, y’know, actually enable them to protect their privacy.
The problem is Meta can’t offer people a choice over what it does with their data because people’s data is the fuel that its ad targeting empire runs on.