NEW YORK: From user privacy to brand safety, digital platforms are increasingly in the spotlight, and cynics suggest that their lobbying efforts are at least as important as any preventive actions being taken.
Aleksandr Kogan, the researcher who mined Facebook user data on behalf of Cambridge Analytica, has defended his approach at the time. Kogan, who is appearing before a UK parliamentary committee today, explained to CBS that his terms of service stated that he could transfer and sell the data.
“The belief in Silicon Valley and certainly our belief at that point was that the general public must be aware that their data is being sold and shared and used to advertise to them,” he said. “And nobody cares.
“Back then we thought it was fine, [but] right now my opinion has really been changed,” he added. “And it’s been changed in particular because I think that core idea that we had – that everybody knows and nobody cares – was fundamentally flawed.”
It’s also the case that brands have sometimes chosen to turn a blind eye to brand safety issues as they seek lower costs in digital advertising.
A year ago The Times highlighted the dangers of that approach, and last week CNN revealed how ads from more than 300 companies and organizations ran on YouTube channels promoting white nationalists, Nazis, paedophilia, conspiracy theories and North Korean propaganda – leading Under Armour to pause its advertising.
“Google, even more than Facebook, has propped up an ecosystem which hasn’t rewarded the companies who trade in high-quality news and entertainment for trusted audiences,” observed Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a trade association for publishers.
But Facebook’s issues are more personal to consumers – and it has had repeated privacy scandals – hence the greater attention being paid to it, plus it hasn’t endeared itself to traditional media.
“We report the story neutrally, but the fact is, Facebook has been pissing off journalists and media companies for a long time, and revenge is sweet,” a long-time digital media journalist told Digiday.
Rivals have been more adept at making their case where it matters in terms of public image. “Google is better at lobbying both in D.C. and the press and publishers,” Kint remarked. The $18m it spent on such activities last year may pay dividends, if, as observers expect, Congress now turns its focus to the other tech giants.
Sourced from CBS, CNN, Digiday; additional content by WARC staff