The Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the CEOs of Meta, X, TikTok, Snap and Discord on Wednesday over their role in the proliferation of child sexual exploitation online — but spectators are skeptical the hearing will result in any meaningful action.
“Fiery accusations are no substitute for action,” said data privacy and technology attorney Heidi Saas in a LinkedIn post.
Saas also questioned why Google CEO Sundar Pichai was not called to the hearing despite the fact that “YouTube is huge for kids, and you know they have issues,” noting Adalytics’ report into ads placed on “made for kids” YouTube videos that may have triggered widespread tracking of children online.
Joshua Lowcock, president of Quad Media, called the hearing “threatrics.”
“Nothing is more frustrating than Senate hearings on Big Tech. Posturing and pandering by all sides for ‘newsworthy’ sound bites but no real commitment to action or change,” he wrote on LinkedIn. “We need reform, tied to laws, with an investigative body that can monitor and enforce rules.”
Under the hood
The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s annual leadership meeting in Florida has been criticized once again by attendees for missing the mark.
Last year, IAB CEO David Cohen caused a stir with his opening speech which referred to ad critics and privacy advocates as “political extremists” and to Apple as an “enemy.” Several in the industry criticized the speech, with Ebiquity chief strategy officer Ruben Schreurs calling Cohen’s terminology “unwarranted” and “quite possibly dangerous.”
Cohen didn’t acknowledge the criticism in this year’s opening keynote, but said his 2023 speech “opened up a brief and candid dialogue with Apple — and that’s a good thing.” He did not back down on his criticism of Apple this year, saying that Apple has “different beliefs in what they believe consumers want and the role that data-driven advertising should play in society.”
“Apple believes that if given the choice, consumers will choose to not share their data for advertising purposes and opt for more subscription services. We conducted some research recently — I learned that consumers want exactly the opposite,” he said.
But it wasn’t what Cohen said this year that sparked complaints, but rather what he didn’t say or do.
Scope3 cofounder and CEO Brian O’Kelley called out the lack of sustainability programming at the event and any effort to reduce plastic waste in a LinkedIn post in which he asked the IAB to “do better.” It was accompanied by a photo of single-use plastic water bottles at the event.
O’Kelley told me that sustainability “felt prioritized by industry leaders” at ALM 2024 during off-venue events, such as a dinner Scope3 hosted with LiveRamp.
“Nobody talked about the actual agenda and sessions much, so I think it’s clear that the IAB is either focusing on sponsors or just out of touch with the actual industry climate,” he said.
Google’s “huge and controversial” push for Privacy Sandbox was the source of “much debate,” he added.
- X plans to establish a trust and safety center of excellence in Austin, TX and hire 100 content moderators by the end of the year to combat posts depicting child sexual exploitation, Reuters reports. Owner Elon Musk gutted the content moderation team at X after he took over in late 2022. In June, the Stanford Internet Observatory said it discovered “serious failings with the child protection systems” on the platform. X CEO Linda Yaccarino testified in the U.S. Senate hearing on child sexual exploitation this week.
- Google has reshuffled its team dedicated to reviewing whether its projects abide by its AI principles after its leader left in January, causing some to question whether the effort will be maintained, Wired reports. A company spokesperson said 10% of staffers on the Responsible Innovation team remain in place while 90% were transferred to trust and safety.
- Google chief business officer Philipp Schindler contested suggestions that the company’s emphasis on AI-powered products is replacing workers following a recent resurgence in layoffs. During the company’s fourth quarter earnings this week, he said Performance Max was a “bright spot” and Demand Gen was driving momentum for the company but added, “we’re not restructuring because AI is taking away roles.”
Publicis Groupe’s healthcare division Publicis Health reached a $350 million settlement with multiple states to resolve complaints about the company’s role in the prescription opioid crisis.
The lawsuit alleged Publicis contributed to the crisis by helping Purdue Pharma, for whom it was agency of record for all of its branded opioid drugs, and other opioid manufacturers market and sell the drugs.
It was accused of helping Purdue with “targeting prescribers who would be most likely to prescribe large amounts of opioids” and “developing sales tactics that relied on farming data from recordings of personal health-related in-office conversations between patients and providers.” Publicis agreed to disclose on a public website thousands of internal documents detailing its work for companies like Purdue and to stop accepting client work related to opioid-based Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substances.
Clashes and debates
Universal Music Group has pulled its songs from TikTok after accusing the social media platform of bullying tactics during contract renewal negotiations.
The music giant said TikTok “attempted to bully us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal” and proposed “paying our artists and songwriters…a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay.” Its contract with TikTok expired January 31.
Out of home advertisers are spending more on vertical video as advertisers extend their social media campaigns to outdoor screens. According to a report by programmatic OOH platform Place Exchange, spend on the leading vertical video format (1080×1920) increased to 34% of spend in the second half of 2023, up from 22% in the first half of the year, while spend on horizontal formats fell.
Dollars and deals
Holding company WPP has earmarked £250 million ($319 million) a year to invest in proprietary technology to support its AI and data strategy. Rival Publicis Groupe a week prior unveiled a €300 million ($326 million) AI investment plan over the next three years.
Amazon and iRobot mutually called off their estimated $1.7 billion acquisition deal over regulatory hurdles. Amazon will pay iRobot a $94 million cancellation fee.
Shortly after the news was announced, iRobot revealed plans to lay off around 350 employees, or 31% of its staff, while founder Colin Angle will step down as CEO.
The European Commission’s investigation found the deal “could have restricted competition in the market for robot vacuum cleaners.” The regulator also flagged concerns about Amazon obtaining access to iRobot user data.
Digital news startup The Messenger has shut down less than a year since launch, after founder and CEO Jimmy Finkelstein failed to raise additional funds to keep the business afloat, Axios reports. The company raised $50 million in funding and hired about 300 staff.
Adrienne LaFrance writes for The Atlantic about the dangers of Silicon Valley’s growing “antidemocratic, illiberal movement,” which she calls “authoritarian technocracy.”