Google's about-face on GDPR consent tool is monster win for ad-tech companies

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Credit: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

In a reversal, Google said Thursday that publishers can now work with as many vendors as they like when using its content management platform, more commonly known as a CMP.

A CMP is a critical piece of software that helps websites comply with the EU's new General Data Protection Regulation. It solicits visitors' consent for various companies' use of their data to improve site performance or personalize advertising. Publishers work with anywhere from two-dozen vendors to hundreds of them. But publishers that used Google's CMP, called Funding Choices, were capped at working with just 12 vendors.

"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," a Google spokeswoman told Ad Age in an emailed statement.

The move might be seen by some as a win for publishers, some of which have long believed that Google was using its dominance to further strengthen its position in the digital ad ecosystem.

Others, however, suggest that the move was merely a compromise between Google and the Interactive Advertising Bureau's consent framework, as thousands of ad-tech companies feared Google's 12-vendor cap could thwart innovation within the industry (and also put many companies out of business).

"This is a sad attempt to try and win over the ad tech vendor complex while maintaining Google's dominant control over the ad supply chain," says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, a publisher trade body that represents outfits such as the Wall Street Journal, Conde Nast and Meredith. "Google's last-minute moves around GDPR have been an abuse of their power and at odds with most of the industry."

A Google spokeswoman says its decision was based on both feedback from publishers and discussions it had with the IAB, adding that Funding Choices itself was still in beta and had never been finalized; changes were all but inevitable once feedback came in.

Back in April, four trade groups representing publishers such as Axel Springer, Bloomberg, Conde Nast, Hearst and the Guardian sent a letter addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai that sharply criticized the company's approach with publishers and GDPR.

The letter underscored the growing tensions between publishers and Google as GDPR's settles in over the industry. "Removing this vendor limit does nothing to answer our questions, which we politely asked in writing," Kint says.

Although Google's consent management tool was optional, because publishers could use any CMP of their choosing and work with as many vendors as they'd like while still plugging into Google's DoubleClick for Publishers, many argued that Google's tool would best sync with its own tech and thus be prefered.

Obtaining consumer consent is crucial when fines for those found in violation of GDPR are $25 million, or 4 percent of global revenue, whichever is larger.

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