Axel Springer counters Google with its own consent management tool

Publishers are griping about Google’s power play regarding General Data Protection Regulation compliance. Axel Springer is taking matters into its own hands on one front by offering fellow publishers the use of its own consent management tools for free.

The German digital media group, which owns Business Insider, Bild and Welt, has spent the last 18 months developing a GDPR consent management tool, which can also be adapted to address cookie-consent requirements under the pending ePrivacy Regulation once it is finalized, according to the publisher. A consent management platform is a technical capability needed by any company that wants to capture what personal data its audience and customers have given it permission to use. That information is then relayed to all partners that publisher works with in its digital advertising supply chain. The aim is to ensure that all data needed for activities such as personalized advertising is only used when the user has given consent.

Axel Springer’s first partner is one of its competitors in Germany: media group Hubert Burda Media.

“One extreme [scenario] is we [publishers] give our fate to someone else, and let others control this very important interaction point with the consumer,” said Stephanie Caspar, president of data and technology at Axel Springer. Referring to Google’s Funding Choices CMP, she said: “For some, this could be less hassle. They [Google] know what they are doing and are experts in software. But there may be limitations with how many partners you can work with and how transparent your business is because there is someone else between you and the consumer, which is always a bad thing as a publisher.”

Axel Springer has made the tool open source, so companies can embed the code into their sites and customize its consent-request messages depending on their GDPR strategies. Once the code is embedded, users can manage their data settings through a preference center. The tool is also integrated with the Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe and IAB Tech Lab’s Transparency & Consent framework, which Axel Springer has openly endorsed.

Axel Springer said the tool won’t restrict publishers to using a certain number of ad tech vendors. Publishers using Google’s Funding Choices can only gain user consent on behalf of 12 ad tech vendors. The rest of the industry viewed being restricted by Google to gaining consent for 12 vendors as a controversial move. However, Google has countered by highlighting its other consent tools publishers can use besides Funding Choices. Publishers that don’t want a vendor limit can choose how many they want to work with by using the ad tech controls available in Google’s AdSense, DoubleClick for Publishers and AdMob.

Under GDPR, all businesses will need some form of CMP to capture and store details on who has given consent and who hasn’t. Publishers have two options: Use an ad tech vendor’s (either Google’s or an independent vendor’s) CMP, or build their own. Axel Springer is now offering a third and has promised there are no strings attached. There is no long-term plan to monetize the Axel Springer tool.

Axel Springer’s tool, dubbed opt in and transparency layer, or “OIL,” includes both an opt-in and opt-out option for companies. The vagueness of GDPR has led to wildly different interpretations across the industry. Some businesses have favored opt-in approaches, while others prefer opt-out ones. Axel Springer has gone for the opt-out approach, believing it to be the best option to align with Germany’s privacy law.

“Our current CMP is flexible regarding the legal interpretation,” said Moritz Holzgraefe, chief operating officer of corporate digital platforms at Axel Springer. “That means everyone can adapt it to their interpretation of the law. Google has said it will probably focus on a hard opt-in requirement everywhere. But we would not have flexibility if we used this. We want this [OIL] to be a flexible option for publishers.”

The CMP isn’t a managed service, and Axel Springer sales teams won’t actively pitch it to businesses. But the publisher will aim to make its staff available, should publishers or any businesses require information on how to implement its CMP or what the publisher has learned from its extensive CMP tests. It will also be up to the individual titles within Axel Springer to use the software.

Axel Springer has created two different tech platforms to address nonregistered users (OIL) and registered users (Verimi). The concept of Verimi is that users can create a single login, which lets them visit all Verimi companies’ sites without having to remember numerous passwords and change consent settings.

Other publishers are watching Axel Springer’s developments with interest, though it’s likely most big publishers will build their own CMPs. “Who better to develop a CMP for a publisher than a publisher?” said an exec at a U.K. national publisher, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It’s very different to how ad tech has typically worked.”

“OIL is based on a transparent and adaptable approach of the IAB Consent Framework for all market participants,” Martin Lütgenau, managing director of BurdaForward Advertising. For us, supporting the open source approach is another important step in our advertising strategy which is why a Google-based solution is out of the question for us.

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