LMC unveils “NewsNext” identity, privacy initiative; Google holding back on FLoC? Anti-surveillance effort starts

Privacy Beat

Your weekly privacy news update.




Publisher/broadcaster consortium unveils “NewsNext” effort to manage user identity, privacy in news-friendly way

A 90-member consortium of mainstream U.S. publishers and broadcasters is standing up its own proposal to address “identity” on the web, as Google prepares to ditch the third-party cookie, Apple narrows options for third-party tracking and the ad-tech industry attempts to consolidate around something called Unified ID 2.0. 

The group, the Local Media Consortium (LMC), unveiled a white paper and description this week of “NewsNext” — a strategic initiative to help sustain news media with a more privacy-compliant way of connecting advertisers with consumers. It involves launch of NewPassID, a local news advertising network and single-sign-on solution (SSO) for consumers.

“The continued disintermediation of publishers’ digital revenue, impending changes to advertising attribution and emerging privacy regulations highlight the challenges facing local media at a time when people seek trustworthy news about their communities,” stated Fran Wills, CEO of the LMC.  “NewsNext is an important initiative aimed at leveraging scale to develop viable strategies for consumer access to news — and monetization, advertising, and technology to help local media publishers navigate current and future challenges in the digital ecosystem.”

For the last decade, digital advertisers have increasingly been using complicated technology which employs “Real Time Bidding” to instantly consider which ads to place in front of individual web consumers. It relies upon multiple compilations of algorithmic guesses about user interests gathered largely without the knowledge or consent of users in part through third-party cookies.

European and California laws, and strategic moves by Google and Apple, are combining to force change in that system. LMC’s “NewsNext” is a publisher/broadcaster effort to maintain relationships with users and be part of how ads are “served” in the future, without becoming wholly reliant on either a new system Google is advancing called “FLoC”, or on the Unified ID 2.0 ad-tech system. (See: “GOOGLE NO-COOKIE COUNTDOWN,” below)

NewsNext, under development, with some piloting already begun, is about “developing a new consumer and advertising monetization strategy, creating more transparency in the advertising supply chain and addressing regulatory, self-regulatory and platform changes for LMC members,” a NewsPassID.com website says.

“The LMC was the ideal consortium of assembled practitioners to establish the NewsNext program and architect the NewsPassID solution,” says consultant Scott Cunningham, a news-industry veteran who founded the IAB Tech Lab and is author of the NewsNext whitepaper for the LMC.

LMC is a company owned by over 90 local media companies in top U.S. and Canadian markets including more than 5,000 individual sites and outlets that reach 200 million unique visitors per month — a figure ranking, in the aggregate, as the sixth-largest web-advertising market globally.  It negotiates bulk service contracts for its member-owners with Google, Facebook, Monster and others. NewsNext is designed to make it easy for advertisers to reach interest cohorts of those 200 million users.

“ . . . [T]he LMC is ideally positioned to create a new purpose-built, sustainable solution,” said Tobias Bennett, LMC’s vp of revenue and partnerships.  “[It] reinforces local media relationships with consumers, reestablishes its position with advertisers, and strives to ensure that news creators are the primary beneficiaries of the value created by their work.”

NewsNext appears to be similar to an effort called The Ozone Project launched by some of Britain’s major publishers, including The Guardian, News UK and The Telegraph in that it aims to employ a “cookieless-ID infrastructure.” 




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Speculation about privacy problems for Google’s FLoC after product chief fails to say it will deploy in Europe

Reporting of a seemingly casual disclosure by a Google Chrome engineer at a virtual meeting of a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) ad-tech discussion has increased uncertainty about how advertisers can continue to target messages to individual consumers in the future. And it opened wide speculation that Google’s “FLoC” idea could have privacy-law troubles.

It began at the beginning of the week when the engineer, Michael Kleber, spoke up during the web meeting.  “For countries in Europe, we will not be turning on origin trials [of FLoC] for users in EEA [European Economic Area] countries,” Kleber was quoted as saying in a story by AdExchanger reporter Allison Schiff. Kleber added later in a GitHub posting that the trial “will only be enabled for a fraction of traffic, and only in some countries and nother others. At the outset, it won’t be enabled for users who are located in the EEA or the UK.”

The unanswered question: Would FLoC subject Google to additional privacy regulation in Europe? Google isn’t talking and gave no explanation for why it would not test in the EU.

Kleber’s statement was followed by a Tweet from Chrome product manager Marshall Vale, which still gave no explanation and added: “We expect to make FLoC available for testing worldwide at a later date.” In a later Tweet, Vale said the company was  “100% committed to the Privacy Sandbox in Europe.”

Significantly, Vale referred not to FLoC, which is just one part of Google’s “Privacy Sandbox” initiative, but to the overall project — suggesting that Google could abandon the FLoC approach and still come up with a different approach to post-cookie ad-tech privacy.

Why does this all matter? The idea behind FLoC is that the Chrome browser, controlled by Google and representing more than two thirds of all web traffic, will deploy new software to track most websites viewed by the consumer and sort them to identity interest “cohorts” of the user.  Then it will allow advertisers and networks to query the cohorts and use that to target advertising.

 Google’s FLoC proposal is in potential competition with a proposal from Microsoft — and other ideas — from ad-tech companies. In addition, the Information Trust Exchange Governing Association, sponsor of this newsletter, proposed several years ago a cohort-based system — UDEX.ORG — to assemble targeting cohorts. It would run in the cloud, be non-profit governed; data would be permissed from the end user and the user’s ID encrypted.

A clue to the challenge FLoC faces may be in this anonymous post to RemarkBoard.com:

“It’s possible, for example, that when a web browser places someone in a cohort and associates them with a FLoC ID, that could count as personal data under the law. And processing personal data to generate the cohort assignment without the proper consent could also be a violation. Because publishers will not be providing users with clear notice and choice about how their data will be used to create cohorts, doing so could be considered a violation of ePrivacy which, among many other things,
regulates the use of cookies online.”






Above: The home page of Ban Surveillance Advertising group


A 42-member anti-‘surveillance advertising’ group
defines the term — but punts for now on replacement

More than 40 consumer privacy groups, including prominent ones, have launched a website and campaign to “ban surveillance advertising” but the effort, well documented, is nonetheless fairly vague on what it proposes as an alternative for marketers.

BanSurveillanceAdvertising.com  defines the problem as “the practice of extensively tracking and profiling individuals and groups, and then microtargeting ads at them based on their behavioral history, relationships and identity.”

In an open letter, the group says Big Tech “is making billions off surveillance advertising; society is paying the price” in terms of discrmination, division, amplification of hate, illegal activities and conspiracism which, among other things, is “starvin the traditional news industry, especially local journalism.”

Left open by their effort was whether some forms of aggregation, or tracking, of users on the web — if done with explicit permission of the user — could be considered a useful, privacy-aware way of offering the user a chance to view advertising they might consider valuable.

Among the 42 groups are the Center for Digital Democracy, Center for Humane Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Demos, Open Markets and Public Citizen. Their open letter says there is no “sliver bullet to remedy this crisis” but that they will be pursuing new privacy laws, antitrust reform and liability standards.




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Mozilla blog takes note of brand-safety advocates Nandini Jammi’s and Claire Atkin’s “Check My Ads” 

A web newsletter published by the Mozilla Foundation, “The Firefox Frontier” is spotlighting the work of two women who it says “are taking on the digital ad industry one brand at a time.” Nandini Jammi and Claire Atkin together founded “Check My Ads.

Their growing practice consults to brands and others on how they can avoid having their messages show up in unattractive environments. (See Privacy Beat, June 12, 2020)

“If you’re using Google [Ads platform], your ads are by default appearing anywhere on Google’s inventory, unless you h ave deselected certain categories,” Jammi is quoted as saying in the Q-and-A newsletter spotlight. “There are certain categories that ad exchanges have that you can deselect from around gambling, adult content and violence. But they don’t have one for disinformation.”

The Q-and-A is rich with insights from both entrepreneurs and recounts how they got started alerting brand advertisers to their ads’ appearance on the alt-right Breitbart.com site, an effort they say contributing to collapsing its ad placements and revenue.  They say most ad buyers are inexperienced and make assumptions about ad placement and efficacy that aren’t supportable.  They also write a newsletter at Substack.com called BRANDED. 






Snowden . . . on privacy protecting a right to inquiry that leads to progress . . . and the manipulation of individuals

  • Privacy activist Edward Snowdon spoke virtually March 23 from his Moscow home to the Priv8 virtual privacy conference in San Francisco.  His comments on the value and purpose of privacy — and the ‘broken’ Internet — were transcribed and posted to Flickr by one conference-goer, the venture-capitalist Steve Jurvetson. His video appearance was moderated by Cindy Cohn, the head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“The costs of curiosity of expression and exploration became too dire. When you speak online, you have to double down to defend what you said instead of admitting mistake. This wrongdoing cannot be forgiven en masse  . . . .

“What is the purpose of privacy? Why is its loss so dangerous? Privacy protects the right of inquiry that leads to progress . . . Privacy is not to hide; it’s to protect. It’s a right. It protects the right to think differently. Rights protect the minority . . . .

 “Trying something new is the engine of all human progress. All ideas we hold dear come from privacy, even ‘private property’ . . .  we have a right to privacy when the people who write the rules went through a revolution. They were recently a minority . . . .

“The internet is broken because it reflects a broken society. Institutions are competing against the individual while individuals compete among themselves. Everything is for the likes, for that shining moment, to leave that shining hellscape behind to garner the attention of those we care about. We are set against each other in a daily talent show. We pay for the privilege to compete in a contest that we cannot win. Society cannot win . . . .

“The dissatisfaction of the masses can be managed by distraction. By entertainment. By division of identity that is amplified all over the place . . . the government has burned and spent the wealth of a generation that will never enjoy its fruits . . . liberty is freedom. There is no freedom from risk in a free and fair society. You need to have a risk of failure. Risk is the source of progress . . . don’t Stay Safe. Stay free.”


Privacy Beat is a weekly email update from the Information Trust Exchange Governing Association in service to its mission. Links and brief reports are compiled, summarized or analyzed by Bill Densmore and Eva Tucker.  Submit links and ideas for coverage to newsletter@itega.org.

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