News & Insights

Digital Dive: Google and YouTube’s Woes, Advertisers Shift to AI, & X and Threads’ Updates

By Alyssa Carino

The Digital Dive - Digital Intelligence Newsletter.

The Big Story

Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind: The Story of Google and YouTube

The series of unfortunate events only seems to continue for Google, who is under fire yet again at the hands of Adalytics. This time, Adalytics revealed that Google not only violated its own YouTube regulations, but also this other little thing called the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). COPPA was created in 1998 and became law in 2000 as a response to the growth in online marketing towards children during the late 90’s, as internet use rampantly grew throughout US households. Even after paying $170 million to settle similar accusations in 2019, Google still did not seem to learn its lesson and has been caught in the act of improperly tracking children for targeted advertising purposes.

The Canadian Bank, BMO, ran a campaign through Google, targeting adults looking to apply for a credit card. Expectedly, some ads were served on YouTube, supposedly only to Canadian adults within their targeting criteria.  Upon further investigation by Adalytics, it turned out that these ads were not exactly all being delivered to BMO’s target audience. Instead, Adalytics found an instance where one of these ads happened to be viewed by someone in the United States on a Barbie-themed children’s video on the “Kids Diana Show,” a very popular YouTube channel for preschoolers. After that viewer clicked on the ad, it led to BMO’s website, which then tagged the user’s browser with tracking software from Google, Meta, Microsoft and other companies. This means that this user’s digital footsteps, despite their age, could then be followed across the internet, which raises concerns about whether this infringes upon COPPA by failing to obtain parental consent before collecting personal data from users under the age of 13.

In addition, Adalytics also found that more than 300 brands’ ads for adult products, like cars, were being placed on various YouTube videos labeled as “made for kids” that were shown to a user not signed into the app. There were also several instances of YouTube ads with violent content like explosions, guns and car accidents on these children’s channels.

As usual, Google refuted Adalytic’s findings as “deeply flawed and misleading.” Google insisted that they were not running any personalized ads on children’s videos and that their ad practices complied with COPPA. Ads that appear on children’s videos, according to Google, are based on the webpage content rather than the user’s profile. Furthermore, Google stated that violent ads on children’s videos are a violation of company policy and YouTube has “changed the classification” of the violent ads to prevent them from continuing. Doubling down, Google stated that they are not responsible for data collection on a brand’s website after a YouTube viewer clicks on an ad to leave the platform. In respect to their own data collection, Google claims their cookie practices are permitted under COPPA for business purposes like fraud detection, and that the data is “encrypted and not readable by third parties.”

Even with Google’s brand safety measures, seasoned advertisers are still finding it difficult to prevent some of their YouTube ads from appearing on children’s videos. The revelations brought forth by Adalytics pulled back the curtain on the major challenges still facing the tech and advertising landscape. This incident further emphasizes the importance of transparent, ethical, and compliant ad practices in an age where user privacy and trust are at stake. Advertisers must tread carefully and continue to evolve strategies, tools, and safeguards to better protect themselves and their brands.

Social Updates

X Plays Hardball with Rival Sites

Elon Musk and X (previously known as Twitter) have been caught in the act of “throttling” or slowing down access to certain rival platforms. Substack, Facebook, Bluesky, and the established news outlets Reuters and The New York Times felt the wrath of Musk’s digital blow and all reportedly experienced slower load times. Apparently, the platform added a 4.5-second delay when accessing any of these sites via the app, although site access spend was reportedly restored later in the day. It is still unclear of the impact that this had on the effected sites, however it is likely miniscule. This isn’t the first time that we have seen this kind of behavior from Musk; remember last year’s Mastodon block and the Substack link sharing prevention in April? This surely isn’t his first rodeo and likely won’t be hist last.

NYC Joins TikTok Ban for Government Devices

In a move reflecting growing concerns about potential security threats, New York City joins the list of US states banning the use of TikTok on all government-owned devices. This decision aligns with similar steps taken by the U.S. Congress and various states, pointing at TikTok’s ties to China’s ByteDance, which some fear could make U.S. user data accessible to the Chinese government. New York City’s Cyber Command determined that the social app “posed a security threat to the city’s technical networks” and gave city agencies 30 days to remove the app. While this ban mirrors the federal position, wider TikTok restrictions beyond government-owned devices remain debated. Despite TikTok’s assurances and plans to improve U.S. user data security, policymakers remain apprehensive. TikTok has chosen to remain silent regarding the recent NYC decision.

Meta to Launch Desktop Version of Threads

Meta recently announced its plans to launch the desktop version of their new microblogging app, Threads. Initially, Threads made its presence known by becoming the fastest app to hit 100 million downloads in just five days. After the initial excitement faded, the app’s use steadily slowed down with active users reportedly plummeting from 50 million daily users to 10 million. User feedback highlighted the absence of key features, with the desktop version of the app being a significant miss. While Threads’ usage has calmed down, Meta’s upcoming enhancements, like an improved search function and a web interface, show a commitment to building up the platform to meet users’ demands. As Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, points out, the focus is on broadening Threads’ capabilities to meet users’ needs in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

Digital Updates

Big Advertisers Shift to AI

As new, innovative uses of AI continue to find their place in the digital world, big advertisers are starting to gain trust and experiment with generative AI software like ChatGPT and DALL-E to increase efficiency. According to reports, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, WPP, is working with consumer good companies like Nestle and Mondelez to incorporate generative AI in their advertising campaigns. WPP CEO Mark Read stated “The savings can be 10 or 20 times. Rather than flying a film crew down to Africa to shoot a commercial, we’ve created that virtually.” Many companies, typically those with less flexible marketing budgets, are still wary of the potential threats this technology poses from a security and brand safety standpoint. Although the adoption of AI tools in advertising has been long underway, this specific usage by such a credible agency is a big step for the technology.

Why Marketers Are Frustrated with Google Analytics 4

The long-awaited migration to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) took place last month and so far, reception hasn’t been entirely positive. From hosting “funerals” for its predecessor, Universal Analytics, to airing grievances in online polls, marketers have made their concerns known. Come commiserate and check out the top ten concerns marketers are seeing with GA4 thus far.

  1. User Interface (UI): The new UI was the most reported problem. Described as “slow” and “laughable”, users found it more cumbersome, especially when selecting segments/dimensions.
  2. Data Lag: Data latency of 12-24 hours hampers real-time analysis, causing users to question GA4’s usability.
  3. Data Discrepancies: Inconsistencies, especially between GA4 API and the Looker Studio Connector, raise concerns about data accuracy.
  4. Complexity: Even experienced marketers find GA4 non-intuitive and hard to navigate.
  5. Lack of Guidance: Users find Google’s educational resources on GA4 lacking and its support team not sufficiently informed.
  6. No Simple Version: GA4 seems overly complex for users like bloggers who just need basic data, prompting calls for a ‘GA4 Lite’.
  7. Missing Features: GA4 seems to lack features available in Universal Analytics, especially those related to attribution.
  8. Difficulty in Recreating Reports: Translating reports from Universal Analytics to GA4 is proving more challenging than anticipated.
  9. Reporting Hurdles: Many marketers find creating reports in GA4 cumbersome compared to the older version.
  10. Bugs: Issues with features and syncing problems have been reported, causing additional frustrations.

However, it’s crucial to note that all change brings challenges. As time goes on, Google will likely work with marketers to remedy some of these pressing issues to improve upon their platform. According to some search marketing experts, GA4 is Google’s way of future-proofing website analytics and it’s essential for marketers to familiarize themselves with this tool.

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