Europe fines Google another €1.5 billion after belated Android concession

US search giant Google has received yet another fine from the European Commission, this time for abusing its dominant position in online advertising.

Specifically this ruling refers to ads served against Google search results embedded in third party websites. The EC doesn’t like the way Google used to go about this and, having reviewed loads of historical contracts between Google and these other websites, found the following:

  • Starting in 2006, Google included exclusivity clauses in its contracts. This meant that publishers were prohibited from placing any search adverts from competitors on their search results pages. The decision concerns publishers whose agreements with Google required such exclusivity for all their websites.
  • As of March 2009, Google gradually began replacing the exclusivity clauses with so-called “Premium Placement” clauses. These required publishers to reserve the most profitable space on their search results pages for Google’s adverts and request a minimum number of Google adverts. As a result, Google’s competitors were prevented from placing their search adverts in the most visible and clicked on parts of the websites’ search results pages.
  • As of March 2009, Google also included clauses requiring publishers to seek written approval from Google before making changes to the way in which any rival adverts were displayed. This meant that Google could control how attractive, and therefore clicked on, competing search adverts could be.

EC google ad graphic

Taken at face value this would appear to be a clear abuse of Google’s dominant position and it seems to have got off pretty lightly, since it got a much bigger fine for abusing Android’s dominant position last year, on which more below. The EC has been pretty consistent in its position on dominant US tech players deliberately seeking to restrict competition, just ask Microsoft and Intel, so none of this can have come as a surprise to Google.

“Today the Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for illegal misuse of its dominant position in the market for the brokering of online search adverts,” said Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager. “Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules. The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate – and consumers the benefits of competition.”

As the quote indicates, Google isn’t doing this anymore, but only packed it in once the EC flagged it up in 2016, so that’s still a decade of naughtiness. For some reason Google also chose today to show some belated contrition for one of the things it got fined for last year: forcing Android OEMs to preinstall Google Search and the Chrome browser.

In a blog post amusingly entitled Supporting choice and competition in Europe, Google SVP of Global Affairs Kent Walker started by stressing there’s nothing he loves more than healthy, thriving markets. Having said that he went on to make it clear that its most recent move to improve competition was taken solely to get the EC off its back.

“After the Commission’s July 2018 decision, we changed the licensing model for the Google apps we build for use on Android phones, creating new, separate licenses for Google Play, the Google Chrome browser, and for Google Search,” wrote Walker. “In doing so, we maintained the freedom for phone makers to install any alternative app alongside a Google app.

“Now we’ll also do more to ensure that Android phone owners know about the wide choice of browsers and search engines available to download to their phones. This will involve asking users of existing and new Android devices in Europe which browser and search apps they would like to use.”

How touching. Presumably today was some kind of deadline for Google to comply or else. The matter of browser choice is highly reminiscent of Europe’s case against Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows. The prime beneficiary of that was, you guessed it, Google, which now accounts for around two thirds of European desktop browser share (see chart), achieved through merit rather than cheating. How sad then, so see history repeating itself on mobile.

So that takes the total amount Europe has fined Google to €8.25 billion. In response to a question after her announcement (below) Vestager revealed the EC has some kind of fine ceiling of 10% of annual revenues so, since Google brought in around €120 billion last year that still leaves plenty of room for further fines if Google keeps getting funny ideas. Incidentally she also revealed that the fines get distributed to member countries, not trousered by the EC itself, which is reassuring.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Market Share

Nick Clegg defends Facebook’s business model from EU’s privacy regulation

Facebook’s head of PR reportedly had a series of meetings with EU and UK officials aiming to safeguard the social network’s business model heavily relying on targeted advertising.

Sir Nick Clegg, the former UK Deputy Prime Minister, now Facebook’s VP for Global Affairs and Communications, met three EU commissioners during the World Economic Forum in Davos and shortly after the event in Brussels, according to a report by the Telegraph. These commissioners’ portfolios include Digital Single Market (Andrus Ansip), Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality (Věra Jourová), and Research, Science and Innovation (Carlos Moedas). Clegg’s mission, according to the Telegraph report, was to present Facebook’s case to defend its ads-based business model in the face of new EU legislation related to consumer privacy.

According to a meeting minutes from the Ansip meeting, seen by the Telegraph, “Nick Clegg stated as main Facebook’s concern the fact that the said rules are considered to call into question the Facebook business model, which should not be ‘outlawed’ (e.g. Facebook would like to measure the effectiveness of its ads, which requires data processing). He stated that the General Data Protection Regulation is more flexible (by providing more grounds for processing).”

In response, Ansip defended the proposed ePrivacy Regulation as a complement to GDPR and it is primarily about protecting the confidentiality of consumers’ communications. In addition, the ePrivacy Regulation will be more up to date and will provide more clarity and certainty, compared with the current ePrivacy Directive, which originated in 2002 and last updated in 2009. Member states could interprete and implement the current Directive more restrictively, Ansip warned.

Facebook’s current security setup makes it possible to access users’ communication and able to target them with advertisements based on the communications. Under the proposed Regulation, platforms like Facebook need to get explicit consent from account holders to access the content of their communications, for either advertisement serving, or effectiveness measuring.

There are two issues with Facebook’s case. The first one is, as Ansip put it, companies like Facebook would still be able to monetise data after obtaining the consent of users. They just need to do it in a way more respectful of users’ privacy, which 92% of EU consumers think important, according to the findings of Eurobarometer, a bi-annual EU wide survey.

Another is Facebook’s own strategy announced by Zuckerberg recently. The new plan will make it impossible for Facebook to read users’ private communications with its end-to-end WhatsApp-like encryption. This means, even if consumers are asked and do grant consent, Facebook in the future will not be able to access the content for targeted advertising. Zuckerberg repeatedly talked about trade-offs in his message. This would be one of them.

On the other hand, last November the EU member states’ telecom ministers agreed to delay the vote on ePrivacy Regulations, which means it will be highly unlikely that the bill will be passed and come into effect before the next European Parliament election in May.

The office of Jeremy Wright, the UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, did not release much detail related to the meeting with Clegg, other than claiming “We are at a crucial stage in the formulation of our internet safety strategy and as a result we are engaging with many stakeholders to discuss issues pertinent to the policy. This includes discussions with social media companies such as Facebook. It is in these crucial times that ministers, officials and external parties need space in which to develop their thinking and explore different options in a free and frank manner.”

The Telegraph believed Clegg’s objective was to minimise Facebook’s exposure to risks from the impending government proposals that could “place social media firms under a statutory duty of care, which could see them fined or prosecuted” if they fail to protect users, especially children, from online harms.

It is also highly conceivable that the meeting with the UK officials was related to influence post-Brexit regulatory setup in the country, when it will not longer be governed by EU laws. Facebook may want to have its voice heard before the UK starts to make its own privacy and online regulations.

Telcos need to seriously think about how to sell to consumers

Following the news that Sky has been slapped on the wrist for misleading claims during a 2018 advertising campaign, marketers need to have a long and hard think about whether they are doing a good job.

The most recent assault against the marketing strategies of the telcos comes from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), with the group ruling Sky’s push to suggest customers would be able to receive stronger wifi signal throughout the house because of its routers, was misleading. The campaign features characters from ‘The Incredibles’ franchise, running across TV and through mainstream press.

The campaign was originally challenged by BT and Virgin Media, with both suggesting the claims were misleading as there was no way to substantiate the assertion. And the ASA agreed. In some cases, Sky’s router might be able to improve wifi signal throughout the home, but due to the breadth of different homes, each with their own structural design, it is an impossible claim to justify. The ad was far too generalist and deemed misleading.

“Unfortunately for Sky, its promise of a strong wifi signal all over your house has been shown to be misleading, and while it is by no means unique in falling foul of the ASA, it will be stung by this ruling the regulator has upheld against it,” said Dani Warner of uSwitch.com.

“Broadband providers are no longer allowed to make such exaggerated claims about potential speeds following the ASA’s major clampdown at the end of 2017, so they have had to become more imaginative in how they stand out from the pack with their advertising.”

This is an area the ASA has been quite hot on in recent years; telcos should not be allowed to make such generalist claims, intentionally misleading customers over performance. Especially in an age where advertising can be personalised on such a dramatic scale, at best it is lazy and incompetent, at worst it is directly and intentionally lying.

What is worth noting is that Sky can potentially boost signal throughout the home, though additional equipment would be required to make this possible. This is not mentioned during the advertising campaign however. The ASA ruled that some of the claims made in the ad could be substantiated, however it is no longer allowed to run in its current form.

Sky incredibles

This is of course not the only area where telcos are being challenged in the world of advertising. ‘Fibre’ claims are another, the ‘up-to’ metric has been removed and the telcos are being forced to detail speeds during peak times. Another factor to consider is the up-coming 5G service. Do any of the telcos have a clue how they are going to sell the service to consumers, as we do not believe the idea of ‘bigger, faster, meaner’ will not work, at least for the first few years.

Starting with the ‘up to’ claim, this is one which plagued the consumer for years. Masses of customers were duped into buying promised services which could only be delivered to a fraction. Thankfully, the ASA changed rules, forcing the telcos to be more accurate in how they communicate with potential customers.

Not only did this ruling mean the ‘up to’ claim had to be avoided, but it also forced the telcos to claim speeds during peak times. This also more readily informs the consumer of services which they are likely to experience, as opposed to the dreamland which most telcos seem to think we live in.

The term ‘fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ has also been challenged, though telcos can still get away with some nefarious messaging. Irrelevant of whether there is fibre in the connection, and there generally always will be at some point, the ‘last mile’ is where the difference is made to broadband speeds. If it is copper, you will never get the same experience as fibre, however, telcos are still able to mention fibre in advertising.

The ASA has done some work to clear this up, in all fairness, though we still feel there is opportunity to abuse the trust of the consumer. And the telcos have shown that when there is an opportunity to be (1) at best lazy or (2) at worst directly misleading, they will take it.

The final area which we want to discuss takes us into the world of mobile and 5G. The telcos have always leant on the idea of ‘faster, bigger, meaner’ to sell new services to customers, or lure subscriptions away from competitors, but 5G presents a conundrum for the marketers; do consumer need faster speeds right now?

EE

4G delivers a good experience to most, and if it doesn’t, there generally is a good reason for this (i.e. congestion, interference, remote location, indoor etc.). 4G will continue to improve both in terms of speed and coverage over the next few years, and as it stands, there are few (if any) services which supersede what 4G is or will be capable of.

Another factor to consider is the price. Many consumers will want the fastest available, even if they don’t need it, but the premium placed on 5G contracts might be a stumbling block. EE has already hinted 5G will be more expensive than 4G, though details have not been released yet. In the handsets segment, consumers have shown they are more cash conscious, especially when there is little to gain through upgrades, and this is heading across to the tariffs space as purchasing savviness increases.

“I don’t think there are many great telco brands out there most consumers see them more as a utility,” said Ed Barton, Chief Analyst at Ovum. “T-Mobile USA is an exception with their customer champion, ‘un-carrier’ positioning but there no branding even approaching the effectiveness of, say, Apple’s.

“If 5G is sold only as a faster G, sales will be slow and it’s up to the entire ecosystem to create the apps, services and use cases which can only exist because of 5G network capabilities. These will probably rely on some combination of edge computing, high volume data transfer, low latency and maybe network slicing. An early use case is domestic broadband however as 5G networks evolve the use cases should proliferate relatively quickly.”

If consumers are becoming more cash conscious and have perfectly agreeable speeds on their 4G subscriptions, the old telco marketing playbook might have to be torn-up. The big question is whether the ideas are there to make the 5G dream work. Differentiation is key, but few telcos have shown any genuinely interesting ideas to differentiate.

Priority

One excellent example is over at O2 with its Priority initiative. Through partnerships with different brands, restaurants, gig venues and companies, customers are given freebies every week (a Nero coffee on a Tuesday) or special discounts periodically (£199 trip to Budapest). It leverages O2’s assets, the subscription base, allowing O2 to add value to both sides of the equation without monstrous expense. This has been a less prominent aspect of O2 advertising in recent years; perhaps the team is missing a trick.

Another, less successful, example of differentiation is getting involved with the content game. BT has been pursuing this avenue for years, though this expensive bet has seemingly been nothing more than a failure, with former CEO Gavin Patterson heading towards the door as a result.

This is not to say content cannot be a differentiator however. The content aggregator business model is one which leverages the exclusive relationship telcos have with their subscribers, streaming-lining the fragmented content landscape into a single window. Again, it uses assets which the telco already has, adding value to both sides of the equation. It also allows the telcos to get involved in the burgeoning content world without having to adopt a risky business model (content ownership) to challenge the existing and dominant members of the ecosystem.

In France, Orange is a making a place for ownership of the customers ‘smart ecosystem’, offering new services such as storage and security, while the same play is being made by Telefonica in South America through Aura. These offerings will offer differentiation, as well as an opportunity to make more revenues through third-party services. It’s a tough segment, as it will put them head-to-head with the likes of Google and Amazon’s digital assistants, but it is a differentiator.

By having these initiatives in place, marketers have something unique to go to market with, enticing consumers with promises which are genuinely different.

Three is a company which is taking a slightly different approach, hitting the consumers appetite for more data as opposed to speeds. Here, the team is leaning on ‘binge-watching’ trends, offering huge data bundles, but you have to wonder whether this is sustainable in the long-run when it comes to profitability and customer upgrades. There is only so long a company can persist in the ‘race to the bottom’.

Go Binge

“There are too many claims in an attempt to stand out in a crowded market,” said Paolo Pescatore, Tech, Media & Telco Analyst at PP Foresight.

“This is not the first time and wont be the last. It will only proliferate with the rollout of fibre broadband and 5G services. Consumers are happy to pay for the service they’ve signed up for, not to be misled. In essence, telcos are struggling to differentiate beyond connectivity. There’s a role for a provider to be novel and provide users with value through additional services and features.”

With the ASA chipping away at what marketers can and cannot say, as well as the traditional playbook becoming dated and irrelevant, telcos need to take a new approach to selling services to the consumer. The winners of tomorrow will not necessarily be the ones with the best network, O2 currently sits at the bottom of the rankings but has the largest market share in the UK, but the telco who can more effectively communicate with consumers.

5G offers an opportunity for telcos to think differently, as does the emergence of the smart ecosystem. Other product innovations, such as AI-driven routers, which can intelligently manage bandwidth allocation in the home, could be used as a differentiator, but it won’t be long before these become commonplace.

At the moment, all the bold claims being made by telcos, each competing the game of one-up-manship, are merging into white noise. The telcos have lost the trust of the consumer, many of which has cottoned onto the claims being nothing more than chest-beating. The telcos need to get smarter, and it will be interesting to see whether there are any unique approaches to capture the imagination of today’s cash conscious, technologically aware and savvy consumer.

Failure to do so, and the telcos might as well start calling themselves utilities.

Telcos are still misleading consumer in broadband ads – FTTH Council

The FTTH Council Europe has written an open letter to various regulatory bodies bemoaning the care-free attitudes of telco marketers and PR ‘gurus’ when promoting their services.

This is of course not a new issue being raised by the FTTH Council, but it is a persistent one. The wider story is the telco’s ‘creative’ relationship with the truth in advertising, though the problem seems to be greater in the world of fibre connectivity.

“Misusing the word fibre in advertisements prevents the consumers from making an informed choice about the products which are available to them and risks hindering fibre take-up,” FTTH Council Europe President Ronan Kelly states.

“Where consumers know what they can choose from and understand the difference in performance between fibre and copper-based connections, they consciously choose fibre: the degree of satisfaction of FTTH end-users is substantially higher than recorded for any other Internet access technology in Sweden and 94% of non-FTTH users would consider subscribing to FTTH if it was made available in their area.”

Perhaps one of the biggest issues is the consumer does not need to care that much for the moment. As most broadband services are sold on speed, fibre is largely un-necessary. Your correspondent does not have a full-fibre broadband connection for the moment, and nothing comes to mind when thinking about poor or sub-standard performance. However, the issue is tomorrow’s world of connectivity.

Our digital lives are becoming more demanding of connectivity, and while there might not be many consumer services which explicitly need fibre-performance today, this will not be the case tomorrow. However, if telcos are using misleading advertising to sell copper-based services, the consumer will soon decide there is no material difference. Accusations will be thrown towards the telco when connectivity standards fail to meet the demands of tomorrow’s services, though it will only be the telcos fault for pitching the two products as more-or-less the same.

The other point which is worth making is that misleading advertising is wrong. No question about it. Unfortunately, the ‘creative’ relationship with transparency is a bad habit the telcos seem to be struggling to break free from.

Just as we have rid ourselves of the ‘up to’ metric, which was very little other than dishonest, claims of ‘fibre-like’ or ‘fibre speeds’ are still in the industry. The consumer is paying honest money to be informed, and there should not be a requirement to fact check the claims of telcos, or any other advertiser for that matter. We’re surprised this point even has to be made.

What is worth noting is the broad-brush here. There are of course honest telcos, while there are also regulators who are working hard to combat the misleading claims. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK has re-worked the rules to ensure telcos can only claim genuine average speeds in advertising, though its research claims ‘fibre’ is not a top priority for consumers who viewed the term as a buzzword to describe speeds. Little has been done to stomp out the misleading use of ‘fibre’ therefore the telcos are free to compound the connectivity misunderstanding. It’s short-sighted, though this is not the first time we have said this about a public organization.

“Acting on misleading fibre advertising is in the interest of all European citizens and businesses but is also in the interest of Europe’s global digital competitiveness and sustainability,” said Kelly.

“Therefore we urge Member States, National Regulatory Authorities and BEREC to take action both individually and collectively to prevent misleading fibre advertising. This will contribute to unlocking the investment potential in fibre across Europe as well as to ensuring that consumers can make well informed choices based on genuine, transparent information.”

What is it with telcos and the ‘creative’ approach to advertising honesty?

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has once again had to step in to put a stop to telco advertising, this time Three’s efforts, posing a pretty simple question; why do the telcos find it so easy to put misleading adverts into the world?

The latest ruling was surrounding Three’s ‘Go Roam’ claim, which states users are able to ‘Feel at Home’ by using their full data allowance without any extra costs in 71 countries. An investigation from the ASA found postpaid users were limited to 13GB and postpaid to 12GB, before costs were applied. There is text hidden away somewhere on the Three website pointing towards a fair use clause, though the ASA does not believe this is sufficient and Three has been misleading customers.

Three’s response to the claims was relatively simple. Firstly, most of it customers only use 0.75GB per month in a ‘Go Roam’ destination, therefore 12GB was excessive. Secondly, that the claim had been used since 2014 and was strongly associated with their brand, which supposedly makes it alright. It does appear some customers were using it for business purposes, making several trips abroad per month, while the offer had originally been intended for holidays.

This is a perfectly respectable defence from Three, but without informing the customer of these conditions, it doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Unfortunately this is becoming a common trend. Service providers seem to think they can do what they like before pointing to some obscure reference on websites, incredibly small print or a statement made to an irrelevant number of people at a niche event. While Three might have been caught out in this instance, it is not alone.

BT had a complaint upheld regarding its claims on wifi speeds in April. Sky was caught misleading customers in March regarding a price promotion. Vodafone was caught out earlier this month and in September for misleading claims in adverts featuring Martin Freeman. There are other examples, plus the pending investigations with the ASA and also dozens of examples over the last few months of ‘informally resolved’ incidents. Vodafone has ‘informally resolved’ 12 of these complaints so far in 2018, TalkTalk seven and O2 five. Some of these will be down to honest mistakes, but the complaints seem to becoming more common.

Of course the other factor which needs to be taken into account is the ‘up to’ metric which plagued telcos advertisements for years, misleading customers over speeds which can be achieved. Any normal person would have told any of the telco’s marketing team this is not a fair or honest way to communicate with the consumer, but it become commonplace. It seems the telcos are harbouring different standards when it comes to honesty than the rest of us.

AT&T launches online advertising marketplace Xandr

Two multi-billion dollar acquisitions and a funny name later, the AT&T content business vision starts to become a bit clearer.

AT&T has announced the launch of Xandr, its new content business unit which will combine current capabilities (e.g. AT&T AdWork and ATT.net), the Time Warner and AppNexus acquisitions, as well as distribution partnerships with Altice USA and Frontier Communications into a notable advertising entity. While the initial plan is to capture a slice of the digital advertising bonanza which has been fuelling the monstrous growth at Facebook and Google, long-term ambitions are a lot grander.

“Xandr is a name that draws inspiration from AT&T’s rich history, including its founder Alexander Graham Bell, while imagining how to innovate and solve new challenges for the future of advertising,” said CEO Brian Lesser. “Our purpose is to Make Advertising Matter and to connect people with the brands and content they care about. Throughout AT&T’s 142-year history, it has innovated with data and technology, making its customers’ lives better. Xandr will bring that spirit of innovation to the advertising industry.”

In the first instance, Xandr will combine the distribution and data capabilities of AT&T, with content catalogues from Time Warner, Frontier and Altice USA and the technology platform of AppNexus to make a more complete advertising offering. With its 170 million subscriber base of mobile, broadband and OTT products, and the data collected on these customers, AT&T believes it can offer a hyper-targeted advertising solution and more effective ROI, to rival the likes of Facebook and Google.

But this is only the first step of the business. In the long-run, AT&T hopes there will be an opportunity for advertisers to bring their own data, augment this with the AT&T customer insight to provide an even more targeted and efficient proposition. These are the foundations of what the business hopes will eventually become an advertising marketplace, where all distributors, content owners and advertisers can combine. AT&T will enrich these offerings with its own data, and even offer tie-ins to Insight Strategy Group and Advertiser Perceptions in order to understand the dynamics between consumer sentiment and the advertising experience. We might have been waiting a while for this move in the content space, but it certainly is an in-depth one.

The partnerships with Insight Strategy Group and Advertiser Perceptions are certainly interesting ones as well. Understanding the dynamics between sentiment and advertising can aid advertisers in placing the right type of advert, in front of the right consumer, at the right time. Its a science which leans on art, but has the potential to be very useful.

The AppNexus acquisition was only completed in August for $1.6 billion, having announced the intention to buy the business in June. Through AppNexus, AT&T has been able to bolster its capabilities with an advertising marketplace, which provides enterprise products for digital advertising, serving publishers, agencies and advertisers. With AT&T’s first-party data, content and distribution the offering becomes more complete, as the focus turns to creating a platform that makes linear TV buying more automated and data-driven. Of course, part of this deal relies on the successful acquisition of Time Warner, which is proving to be more difficult business.

That said, while this is a good idea from AT&T to provide additional value to the content ecosystem, there will be complications. AT&T will have to convince competitor media companies to put their premium inventory on its network, while regulation could prove to be a hurdle as well. With data privacy a hot topic in the technology world right now, shifting around sensitive information and augmenting in such a marketplace might raise some concerns from privacy advocates.

Some have questioned whether AT&T’s venture into the content world, but this does look like to be a comprehensive strategy, incorporating several promised aspects of the digital economy. There are of course significant hurdles for the business to overcome, but it is a creative idea, perhaps one which would have been more likely to emerge from other segments of the technology world. More importantly, it is an opportunity for AT&T to provide value above connectivity.

The telcos will always have an important place in the digital economy, providing the connectivity cornerstone, though this runs the risk of utilitisation, slipping down the value chain. Using data for the purposes of advertising has always been a sensitive issue, though should AT&T be able to negotiate the red-tape maze, Xandr will enable AT&T to secure ‘UnTelco’ revenue. This is a case of a telco using what it has to add value to a parallel segment, as opposing to disruption and attempting to steal a limited amount of revenue. Its creating additional revenue streams and value.

Aussies telcos given yellow card for foul-play in ‘unlimited’ advertising

UK consumers might find some comfort that lying to misleading the masses isn’t a speciality of telcos here; everyone around the world is up to no good.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has told telcos to keep a better handle on advertising claims, demanding more honesty. Transparency and accuracy might seem like strange concepts to telecommunications companies, who have made somewhat of a speciality of applying flexibility to the definition of certain terms, but the regulator is hitting back.

“Telecommunications companies should be wary of using absolute claims like ‘unlimited’ where that does not give a true picture to consumers of what is being offered,” said ACCC Chairperson Rod Sims.

“We have taken a range of actions against telecommunication companies for misleading consumers. It is about time they showed more respect for their customers and the Australian Consumer Law. With much higher penalties now available for breaches of consumer law, I hope they will take their obligations more seriously. From now on consumer law penalties will seriously affect their bottom line, and we will not hesitate to seek the highest possible penalties.”

The issue here is focused on the ‘unlimited’ claims put forward by telcos when promoting mobile data plans. Optus, Vodafone and Telstra are the trio under the microscope of the ACCC, alongside private litigation brought by Optus against Telstra in the Federal Court. The result of the investigation, which took place between March and June, is that while the trio of white liars did include disclaimers, these were not sufficiently prominent or clear enough to explain to consumers the existence and impacts of the limitations. In short, consumers were not told about the throttling which would take place after data limits had been reached.

While the Aussies might be the centre of criticism right now, few nationalities are innocent. The UK has consistently mislead the consumer with the dreaded ‘up-to’ metric, and while this has been addressed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) there are some, including Telecoms.com, who do not believe it has gone far enough. In years gone by, telcos could make speed claims in advertisements if they could prove 10% of customers could experience the promise. While this has been raised to 50% during peak hours, there have been calls this percentage should be higher.

In another example, Vodafone UK had one of its broadband adverts bands after the ASA deemed that there was a disconnect between the buffering scenario in the advert and how it related to the refund offer or service guarantee. The ‘ultimate speed guarantee’ advert featured Martin Freeman as a gamer experiencing connectivity issues at a critical point during the game, with BT making the initial complaint.

It is certainly promising to see a watchdog taking action against the telcos, perhaps we should all just ignore the advertising for the moment. We’re struggling to think of a telco which has earned the right to be trusted after years of misleading promises, inaccurate promises or childish moaning. Trust is hard earned and easily lost, and the telco industry is running on empty.

Confusion reigns in China as Facebook is/isn’t granted access

For a brief moment in time, Facebook thought it had access to the fortunes of China. But now execs are heading back to the drawing board as its subsidiary’s registration has been removed.

After a decade of struggling to make any headway, there was a win. A company was registered in the city of Hangzhou according to a government filing, financed with an investment of $30 million and Facebook listed as the only shareholder. Unfortunately for Facebook, this registration was removed late Tuesday night, perhaps indicating the social media giant is back to square one.

The company registration should be viewed as nothing more than a minor win for Facebook. This was not permission for a fully-fledged launch in China, but it was a presence in the country. Facebook has confirmed it planned to create an innovation hub, similar to those which it has created in countries such as Brazil, to tap into the local market. But, it was a foot through the door, if only for the briefest of moments.

This licence would have allowed Facebook to access Chinese developers and consumers, though the launch of an app would have required more negotiations. Should Facebook have wanted to launch its full service, this would have been even more complicated. But this minor win meant CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his cronies were inside the tent, rubbing shoulders with the right people. The removal puts the social media giant back outside, crossing its legs.

Why the registration has been removed is anyone’s guess, but it does show the complications of trying to access one of the world’s most sought after prizes. To do business in China, you do it on its terms with no back chat. This might be a difficult pill to swallow for Silicon Valley companies which are used to calling the shots, but China has shown over the last decade how stubborn and resourceful it can be.

With the world’s largest population, a young and increasingly affluent middle-class and a hunger for the digital world, the Chinese population looks prime for the US giants of the internet economy. But with the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter being banned, the profits have instead gone to domestic brands. China has not bowed to the global infatuation with these companies, instead, used its promising society to fuel the growth of brands such as WeChat, Alibaba and Baidu. The Great Firewall of China has certainly brought riches for those who are lucky enough to be on the right side of it.

Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives have been trying to crack this enigma for years, but it seems they are not willing to accept the required concessions. A social media platform not under the direct influence of the government is not a position China wants to find itself in. It would be potentially empowering and destabilizing, a path the government does not want to walk. Some companies have accepted these conditions, LinkedIn is one example, though the majority have drawn a line in the sand.

It should be noted Facebook does do business in China. It sells advertising to Chinese brands looking to capitalise on the vast reach offered by the platform, but for Facebook to continue the exceptional growth investors have become accustomed to over the years, it needs access to the consumers as well. Expanding the user base is critical for the social media giant, and there have been signs in recent months it might be hitting a glass ceiling.

In the Western markets, some might argue there is limited room for additional users, while younger generations are starting to snub the platform in favour of brands such as SnapChat. The business can grow in some developing markets, though these are not the consumers which are deemed attractive to advertisers. To maintain profitability without the growing user base, Facebook would have to serve more ads to the user. This would be a downward spiral. As mentioned before, China has a growing, young, affluent, digital-savvy middle class. This is an audience advertisers would be interested in engaging.

The subsidiary’s registration was not going to ensure Facebook could launch its services in the country in the short-term, but it was certainly a step in the right direction. Despite the fact it has been seemingly revoked, it is still progress.

Most people think ‘fibre’ means FTTP – survey

A survey commissioned by UK fibre challenger CityFibre found that most people think fibre should mean fibre, which seems fair enough.

The research was conducted by Censuswide, who surveyed 3,400 UK broadband punters. 24% of respondents reckoned their broadband consisted of fibre all the way to the premise, even though only 3% of the UK currently has that privilege. Furthermore 45% of them assumed a service advertised as fibre meant fibre all the way, rather than just to the cabinet or whatever.

CityFibre is in the process of taking the Advertising Standards Agency to Court as it disputes its conclusion that ‘fibre’ is not a misleading term in broadband adverts when used to describe hybrid copper-fibre connections. That seems like a reasonable objection and is clearly the reason it commissioned this survey.

But CityFibre isn’t entirely innocent of a spot of misleading itself. The press release announcing this survey was headlined ‘Two thirds of broadband customers believe “fibre” should mean fibre-to-the-premises in ads’, but then offers no data points to support that claim. The closest one is the finding that 65% of respondents ‘didn’t think their current connection relied on copper cables or hybrid copper-fibre’.

There’s also this: While just under two thirds (65%) said their broadband provider had described their connection as “fibre”, only 1 in 6 (17%) thought this connection would include copper cables. But that’s still not consistent with the headline. People in glass houses…

“We are calling on all broadband providers to stop using the word ‘fibre’ unless it is describing a full fibre connection,” said Greg Mesch, CEO of CityFibre. “Rather than waiting for the backward-looking ASA to be forced to act, the industry should stand as one and pave the way for a new generation of connected homes, businesses, towns and cities across the UK.”

Mesch and CityFibre have a long history of agitating about the US fibre environment and usually manage to diminish their point by overdoing it. But that doesn’t mean they’re wrong and in this case they definitely have a point. Calling a service ‘fibre’ clearly infers it’s fibre all the way. If it’s hybrid then that should be represented in the name, regardless of what ISP marketing manager want.

Microsoft launches its own personalised advertising platform

Despite all the flak Facebook has been receiving for its hyper-targeted advertising platform, Microsoft has decided now is a perfect time to launch its own version.

The Microsoft Audience Network is an AI-powered audience marketing service, combing data sourced from assets including Bing, MSN, Outlook.com, the Edge browser, LinkedIn and ‘high quality’ third-party websites, which promises to engage potential customers, at the right time, with the right message.

“The Microsoft Audience Network offers advanced audience targeting and brand safe native placements,” said Rik van der Kooi, Corporate VP of Microsoft Search Advertising.

“We recognize that the industry is ever changing, customer-centricity matters more than ever to businesses, and AI is transforming how marketers and brands engage with their customers. It is no longer about optimizing your media spend by channel but understanding your customers and their interests and preferences.”

Microsoft Graph

As you can see from the image above, campaigns can potentially go incredibly in-depth, with very specific messages and almost invasive intuition. While this is common-practice across the digital economy, Microsoft has chosen a very interesting and unusual time to launch such a service.

The ‘Microsoft Graph’ offers datasets with rich knowledge of consumers’ interests and preferences, which will only become more detailed as more of the consumers life hits the digital highway. Using the Bing Ads platform, machine learning algorithms guide audience segmentation, engagement prediction and personalized offer selection. To increase the accuracy and effectiveness of these campaigns, the team has also partnered with third-parties such as Yelp, Twitter, Foursquare and TripAdvisor to add more information into the mix. Addressing the privacy issue, Microsoft promises all data will be anonymized.

Facebook is facing intense criticism over its own advertising platform, most notably the ability of advertisers to launch targeted and personalised advertising campaigns. Politicians are perched comfortably on their high-horses, clopping along, stirring up disgust in the masses. The world is not looking favourably on targeted advertising campaigns and services. It certainly is a bold move from Microsoft to make such an announcement now, potentially opening itself up to criticism.

Facebook is being made an example of right now, being blamed because we didn’t want to know the complexities of the big data machine. The internet giants are not blameless whatsoever, and do have a tendency to toe the line of ethical, while also lurking in unexplored corners of the internet, but society on the whole buried heads in the sand. No-one questioned how Facebook continued to be free, but then the world is disgusted when the answer is forced upon us.

Microsoft is now offering a service which is commonplace, but we question whether now is the right time. Launching the service in a couple of weeks, once the euphoria surrounding Facebook’s advertising practices have died down, might have been a better idea, but only time will tell.