VentureBeat: And how long ago would you say this has been going on?
Menon: So, I think — at least in the U.S. — we’ve been complaining and sort of generally being annoyed by this for the better part of the last 10 months. And it really became a discussion point maybe seven months ago. But during the last 60 days or 90 days, there was just this blind rush, when suddenly everyone started to Google what is ECMP? The next thing is, “Where do I get one?” That’s ironically what I did.
Beumala: Yes. For us it was a nightmare, I have to be honest, because we had to hire three different lawyers, all at the same time, because the first one came in and he told us his story, and we felt something’s strange, what’s this guy saying? It was a big thing, so we had to hire another one just to confirm what the first one was saying. He told us a different story, and we had to hire another one. And the problem was that the week before, they were still discussing what GDPR meant and what we should be doing, because lawyers know what GDPR should be for a normal company, but not an internet company. And they were like, “We don’t really know, because there are a lot of different ways to understand this thing.” And what made it even more confusing is that there is the law, and there are recommendations. But they are all backed on the same document, so you don’t really know what is a recommendation and what’s the actual law.
VentureBeat: And the lawyers were trying to scare you?
Beumala: Yeah, you know how it is dealing with lawyers. It’s like, “Hey, be careful if you do that,” — there is a line, and they are always trying to be super strict with it; I guess it is their job.
Webb: Also for us, I think the volume got turned up closer and closer to the day. But what we were waiting for was for one of the major advertising companies to become part of the Internet Advertising Bureau community of content management, and we were told it was gonna happen … in the next couple of days, and we were waiting for that before we actually finally implemented our solution. And then the deadline came, and it never happened, and I think even now, a few weeks later, it has still not happened. So you know when you’ve got the largest advertising network in the world not part of the IAB standard — and still [going] to happen — you have to come up with something else in the meantime, which is largely what we did.
VentureBeat: Tony, did you have a different story about this?
Farrelly: Well, no. It seems just the volume increased, funnily enough. We are Europe-based. It wasn’t really on our radar, probably up till about six months ago, and then it was more the ads network saying, “Are we GDPR-compliant?” And I’m saying, well I don’t know. We don’t really hold any data, probably, and just much the same as everyone else here.
Webb: Well that’s the thing with not holding any data. Even IP addresses on server logs is part of the question. The whole thing about IP addresses being part of the private data is again one of those thing which I don’t think is particularly well thought through. Even though the sentiment, I completely agree is the right thing. You [as a publisher] can have private data [of your users] without actually even realizing you have private data.
Farrelly: We’ve reacted in some way. I don’t think the people who framed this law expected the reaction they got. But we’ve all reacted like this, because everyone was worried about at some point maybe getting sued.
VentureBeat: So there is like this parallel development. I guess the law was cooking for this long time. It had nothing to do with Cambridge Analytica or Facebook. But when that happened — it seemed like for the longest time nobody cared about privacy issues in the U.S. The lawmakers didn’t. Now they are calling Facebook before Congress and circling back and grilling them about it. When you start connecting this problem to political elections, and then start using the data to try to manipulate an election, then all of a sudden people cared about this, and they thought this was the worst thing in the world, right? So the lawmakers are not acting on this yet, but it seems that happened in parallel and created a difference of understanding among everybody that actually people do care about this someway. Is that interpretation okay?
Farrelly: I’m not sure people cared that much. The only feeling I get from our users is that they care about being hassled. They get that the ads pay for the site, and they get that they may well get followed around to other sites, as the bikes in our case. As they are on a bike website and they are into cycling, they don’t really care. They’d rather that than we ask them for money.
Beumala: Do you really think that GDPR — or the American counterpart that is coming, because it was said that a new law is coming … do you really think that this is going to change something on the consent that Facebook gets? If I’m a Facebook user, a power user — people who use two hours a day for Facebook obligations — if I’m exposed to the consent, I’m gonna say yes [on the consent form], right? So this is not gonna change the reality. [Something like] Cambridge Analytica is going to hop in no matter what. I think that here, and I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, a lot of us on Facebook realize the responsibility that it must have as a company, and we are just [clear that], from an ethical perspective, that certain things cannot just happen. Until several big things like this happen, we won’t get to fully understand that because, honestly, if you have followed what happened with Cambridge Analytica, I don’t think that Facebook had anything directly to do with that.
Webb: They’ve jump all over it, and they’ve reacted to that in a way.
Beumala: They had to.
Webb: Of course, but there are some larger companies that are still sort of doing it by the letter, and I think Facebook had actually embraced the fact that it was an internal issue that they had to address. So I think that’s the positive side of it. And I agree with what you are saying, ultimately, if you are a power user on Facebook, or Instagram, you are going to say “Yes.”
Beumala: And you would agree with anything, even though it’s in plain English and easy to understand? I want to see my friends so ….
Webb: To be part of the platform.
VentureBeat: So part of my point is that it seems somewhere companies may have crossed over from thinking of GDPR as a bureaucratic hassle to something that matters to their customers, something that matters to their readers in this case, right? The people are aware of this now, and they actually want this to be a law.
Menon: I think at least, I can’t speak for the EU, but I know in America, definitely, there’s been a greater conversation happening. To your earlier question about regulators to something happening simultaneously, I personally think that the regulators got lucky. I think Cambridge Analytica and the Facebook scandal was the perfect hassle they needed, and it just happened. So I do think, and I know this at least just by reading the way it’s been discussed and reported in the media, I know in the U.S. there is a heightened sense of at least people wanting to know more of what they are discussing, data privacy, and I think that’s a good thing. The one thing I would say as a publisher is that we were being social first, we were very slow to the first-party data party. (That was not intended to pun like that.) The one thing that we learned, and the one thing GDPR helped in that sense is it sort of gave us that kick in the ass we needed to actually move faster to that.
So I think if there’s any silver lining, it’s that publishers in general and the media companies in general are now actually taking responsibility to collect that first-party data instead of simply hoping that Google and Facebook would play nice and share some of that. So, in that sense, there is a silver lining. That being said, though, I think it’s hard because GDPR supposedly has drawn the line in the sand — it’s just that depending on which lawyer and what time of the day you look at it, that line is gonna keep moving. So it’s a little hard, because you are not quite sure. But I think that this is probably the only positive thing that’s come out of it, along with that discussion about data privacy.
Webb: One thing I wanna add to that — I completely agree — in addition, we said we are not sure our readers actually care. One thing our readers do actually care about is if they give us private data, such as their own email addresses, they should expect it to be protected and not forwarded on and not hacked, you know. These things do have implications, data leaks from various credit agencies, for example, which can cause massive inconveniences for people. I think it is right as publishers that we should assure our readers that when they do give us that first-party data, that we actually do care about their privacy. That’s the other part of the equation. It’s a two-way deal, and we want them to give us that data directly, but at the same time, they need to be assured that we are holding up to our responsibilities.
VentureBeat: This was what happened with Cambridge Analytica, I think I saw it a couple of times in Facebook posts from my friends’ group pages. I guess people saying “I’m quitting Facebook, you know, I’m out of here.” And the other ones say, “Why am I being shown lingerie ads?” The other one says, “I’m not seeing those, there must be something wrong with you.”
Beumala: How did that impact on the gaming industry because at the end we,… one of the big impacts was on the publishing and media ecosystem, but what about gaming?
VentureBeat: Well you have to know a lot about your customers.
Beumala: Exactly. Because more of gaming is more about tracking and knowing that someone likes, [for example], group travel … so horrid, that impact.
VentureBeat: Well, they don’t know yet, but generally the techs worry more … this is a solvable truth, just more tech.
Beumala: I think so. The first day of the 25th, it was kind of a crash in terms of revenues, at least at Marfeel. It was not because of any technical mistake, but the whole industry just sort of put all things on hold. No one was moving, buyers just said, “OK, I’m not buying,” so there was a big drop in terms of revenues. And then as we kept moving, things start picking up. I think it’s hard to evaluate, but we are pretty much back on track where we should be, and … we [just] have one more problem. That’s pretty much it, and there are so many of us that are still catching up, but it seems that in a period of a very little number of months, everything will be back to where it had to be with no more problems.
VentureBeat: Are the pop-ups really generic at this point? What do they say? Is there a lot of variation?
Beumala: That is a very funny thing. So the first week, we put a small pop-up [on the site]. It was very clear. We put the terms of service, if you want, accept this, whatever. Then we saw that the acceptance rate was okay [and we said] let’s try and improve it. We made a big pop-up that was blocking the whole UI, and then we started receiving calls from our customers who said that “Hey, in my country, the pop-up is very small, and then it would dim away, so that if you scroll, it would get you to acceptance.” We realized from IAB Spain, Italy, and Germany that they were accepting it, and they would check those who make newspaper sites, and they were doing that, and the law states specifically that a scroll is not accepted as an interaction. But what this was was a recommendation — so in the end, the pop-up is nothing. So because we have very big newspapers, just taking acceptance from a scroll, to be honest, I don’t think it’s fair. But we would see until someone gets sued and has to pay big money and there is a firm resolution, I don’t think we can have an opinion on that, to be honest.