‘Nobody was going to bite’: Publishers score rare victory over Google in GDPR spat

Google’s late reversal of a policy that restricted how many vendors a publisher could gain consent for under the General Data Protection Regulation, has been met with relief in some quarters, bitterness in others.

On June 7, the tech giant revealed it would lift the restriction it originally made for its Funding Choices consent management tool that publishers could only gain user consent for 12 ad tech vendors (including Google) to run personalized ads. Google has now said that publishers can have a limitless number of vendors, as first reported by AdExchanger.

The 12-vendor limit was a major sticking point for publishers that joined the beta test, which is what’s led Google to scrap the cap in favor of a more flexible version. Publishers wanted the flexibility to be able to make their own decisions about how many vendors to list. Google has agreed and is making the changes in the product.

“Based on industry and customer feedback, we have decided to remove the 12-vendor limit for publishers that use Funding Choices to obtain user consent on their website,” said a Google spokesperson. “Moving forward, publishers can choose however many vendors they want to list.”

The move to cap the number of vendors a publisher using the Funding Choices CMP could gain consent for had put publishers and ad tech vendors on edge because the 12-vendor cap was regarded as exceptionally low. Most publishers use at least 20 vendors to maintain programmatic revenues and run other analytics functions on their sites.

The big publishers which have the resources to create their own CMPs had felt less concerned by the restrictions. “By having the 12-vendor restriction they [Google] were shooting themselves in the foot. It [Funding Choices] didn’t get traction,” said a publishing executive.

Several major publishers have shrugged at the news that the restriction had been lifted, suggesting that the change has done little to alleviate the tension and distrust that’s developed in the ongoing tug of war between Google and publishers caused by GDPR.

“Google’s [CMP] U-turn is commercially focused,” said another publishing executive. “Nobody was going to bite with just 12 vendors so they’ve lost the business opportunity by being too controlling. We have 80 [ad tech vendor partners] in our CMP, 12 is insanely few. They knew that, but thought they could dictate to the world.”

For mid to long-tail publishers whose only option would have been to accept whatever terms Google dictated for its Funding Choices CMP in order to still be able to operate for free within its ecosystem, the restriction lift will be good news. Any that were on the fence about using the Funding Choices CMP option, will likely jump straight in.

Before Google had committed to aligning itself with the IAB framework, some publishers had felt torn over which ecosystem to cast their chips — Google’s or the IAB’s, both of which worked to different standards. Google has taken a strict, consent-led approach to compliance, whereas the IAB framework has been constructed to accommodate businesses that have taken the softer opt-out or legitimate interest approach. Dropping the vendor restriction should help align them better, industry execs believe.

“The whole [GDPR] infrastructure needs work. Google has also made the market hesitate by the fact they have been hesitating, so the fact they’re making changes, which will make them more aligned with the IAB framework is a good thing,” said André Baden Semper, gm of Europe for Purch.

“The closer Google gets to the IAB framework the better,” said an executive from a major publisher. “The inconsistencies between the two create a huge potential consent clash, which is not good for the industry, and more importantly not good for consumers.”

A Google spokesperson said the decision to lift the vendor restriction was separate to its conversations with the IAB about joining the framework.

Google’s late GDPR policy changes, including cutting out certain ad tech vendors from its ecosystem until they could guarantee they were GDPR compliant, threw many businesses into disarray in the immediate aftermath of the law’s arrival. Publishers have also been vocal about the alarm they have felt at what they’ve called Google’s “take it or leave it” approach to GDPR.

In April, four publisher trade bodies wrote an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, demanding that the company urgently respond, in writing, to seven core publisher concerns. In response Google invited publishers to attend an open meeting in New York, with video conferences in three other Google offices including London taking place simultaneously.

Many big publishers didn’t attend the meeting, preferring instead to have their questions answered in writing. “Google has failed to answer any of our questions and this [lifting CMP vendor limit] merely seeks to appease rising tension with the entire ad tech vendor ecosystem in their friendly IAB orbit,” said Jason Kint, CEO of publisher trade body Digital Content Next, “especially considering Google has only wanted publishers to bear the risk of Google’s desired consent system, this simply adds more. The removal of the vendor limit would appear to be a sad attempt by Google to win support from the ad tech vendor ecosystem.”


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