‘We’re giving them a harder time’: Axel Springer tries to turn up heat on Facebook

Axel Springer is now using fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal to press its case that advertisers should be wary of Facebook.

The German publishing group’s sales house, Media Impact, commissioned a study after the Cambridge Analytica scandal erupted in March, to gauge whether user trust in the social platform in Germany had dropped. Just over 50 percent of the 4,000-plus respondents aged between 16 and 49 years old said they make false statements on social media platforms including Facebook to protect their identity.

When respondents were asked their views on which news sites or social media sites were likely to lose popularity in future, 46 percent said Facebook would become less popular — more than any other site. Three-fourths said Facebook-owned Instagram that would stay or get more popular.

Naturally, Axel Springer is making the study a selling point with advertisers.

“We’re giving Facebook a harder time,” said Carsten Schwecke, chief digital officer of Media Impact. “The Cambridge Analytica scandal has caused a big shift in terms of user trust in Germany. We have done internal research that supports this. There could be real plus points for us as publishers from that.”

Source: Translation of Media Impact study.

Facebook didn’t comment for this article.

According to Facebook, 32 million Germans use Facebook monthly, while over 2.23 billion use it globally. Although, Facebook also lost 3 million daily active users in Europe, the company said in July. Facebook is growing its European publisher partnerships team, having hired one of its biggest critics and, until recently Spiegel CEO, Jesper Doub. His remit is to improve relationships between Facebook and European news publishers.

Axel Springer has a history of pushing back against the dominance of both Facebook and Google. The publishing giant has gone public about how it has intentionally weaned itself of being reliant on Google’s ad tech tools and has since been active in encouraging other European publishers to follow suit. The publisher also created an open-source consent management platform for publishers and ad tech vendors that needed to safeguard their compliance to the General Data Protection Regulation but that didn’t want to be beholden to using Google’s CMP. The publisher has developed its own grading system for approaching its partnerships with both Facebook and Google. The concept is that if a platform like Facebook doesn’t meet three of its criteria, the publisher halts all activity.

Other German publishers, such as Gruner+ Jahr, have long been vocal about where Facebook needs to be more accountable. On the one hand, publishers like Gruner + Jahr continue to work with Facebook to combat fake news and hate speech on the platform. Yet on the other, Facebook’s role as a distributor has diminished for publishers. The volume of referral traffic that Facebook generates for media publishing house Gruner + Jahr, has dropped between 50 and 80 percent over the last year, according to Arne Wolter, chief digital officer at Gruner + Jahr.

“Publishers are definitely giving Facebook a harder time here,” said Oliver von Wersch, an independent consultant for publishers in Germany. “Facebook as a publishing channel is not as relevant for them anymore. The [referral] traffic decrease from Facebook has been significant here over the last nine months.”

Germany isn’t alone in losing Facebook traffic referrals over the last year, but it’s lost more than some European counterparts, according to Chartbeat data pulled for Digiday. In France, Facebook referral traffic dropped 18 percent in August from January 2017, while in Germany it dropped 50 percent. In the U.S., referral traffic dropped 40 percent over the same time period, and the U.K. has seen a 26 percent drop.

Source of chart: Chartbeat

With Germany’s tough stance on data privacy has meant that the Cambridge Analytica scandal didn’t unseat the German market the same way as it did in the U.S., according to some agency executives.

“In Germany, we’ve always had to argue the case for people being skeptical about personal data,” said Max Embert, social media director at Publicis PixelParks in Germany. “But since this whole affair [Cambridge Analytica] the U.S. [Facebook] team now gets huge pressure on this kind of topic, and finally understands why the German market is this way.”

However, others believe that Germany’s conservatism around data privacy isn’t what it was.

“For people aged over 50 that had first-hand experience of Eastern Germany, for example, it’s still critical,” said Oliver Gertz of MediaCom Germany. “But the younger generations don’t feel the same.” While people may voice concerns about privacy, there isn’t much evidence to show they proactively change their privacy settings, he added. “U.S. consumers care more about data privacy than they did 10 years ago, and Germans care less about it now than they did 10 to 20 years ago.”


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