Monday Wake-Up Call: Facebook faces a backlash. Plus, the fight over Time Warner's future

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Credit: Bloomberg/Chris Ratcliffe

Welcome to Ad Age's Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital news. What people are talking about today: Facebook faces a deluge of new criticism and scrutiny over its handling of user data. Lawmakers in the U.S. and the U.K. want answers about how exactly Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm that worked on President Trump's 2016 election campaign, was reportedly able to obtain and use data on tens of millions of Facebook users. Two former federal officials told The Washington Post that they expected the FTC to investigate. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota tweeted that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg should testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

What Facebook says: Facebook says an academic researcher obtained the user data legitimately (via an app that offered innocuous-seeming "personality tests") but misused it when he passed it to the data firm. Facebook also insists that the episode cannot be called a "data breach."

Confused yet? Read the major investigations from The New York Times and the U.K'.s The Observer that sparked the uproar. Read Facebook's statement saying it had suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories. (Cambridge Analytica, which had investment money from Robert Mercer, the Republican donor, insists that it deleted all the data and didn't use it in the Trump campaign.)

What's next: Facebook, already dealing with a backlash over fake news stories and Russian meddling in the election, has another PR crisis on its hands centered on its advertising machine, which brought in $39.9 billion in revenue in 2017. It's also facing calls for more regulation. Sen. Klobuchar's tweet read, in part, "It's clear these platforms can't police themselves."

'No such thing as neutral'
How are brands supposed to navigate this era of political polarization? Is staying "neutral" the best answer? Ad Age's Lindsay Stein writes that's not easy: "In this environment, brands that try to remain outside broad societal conversations are damned if they do and damned if they don't." Take Delta Airlines. It briefly offered discounts to NRA members attending a single conference, 13 people took advantage of it and, when the airline axed that offer--saying it wanted to be "neutral" on a polarizing issue--a backlash was sparked among supporters of gun rights. Georgia Senate Republicans then penalized Delta by killing a fuel tax exemption that would have saved the airline $50 million.

Newsprint and rockets
Newspapers and news outlets are experimenting to reach new audiences (see The New York Times' free podcast, "The Daily," and Bloomberg News' TicToc, a Twitter-based news channel). One of the more unusual examples comes from USA Today Network. George Slefo writes that it tapped a team of former video-game developers to work on its "first augmented reality app, focused on the 30 rocket launches slated for Cape Canaveral, Florida, this year." A few of those are rockets from Elon Musk's SpaceX, which should draw some eyeballs. If you're wondering what AR rockets have to do with the company's main business (the news), here's the connection: USA Today Network will provide context about the launches via reporters from its publication Florida Today, which covers the state's Space Coast.

This is a big week for AT&T's battle to buy Time Warner, which owns everything from HBO to CNN to Warner Bros., including all the D.C. Comics superheroes. The U.S. Department of Justice wants to stop the deal, arguing that it will hurt consumers, and the case goes to court in Washington, D.C., starting today. If the $85 billion deal happens, it could help AT&T compete with Amazon and Netflix on streaming video, and it would "give the combined company a path to compete with Facebook and Google in the digital advertising market," as Axios writes. Here's The New York Times' take: "The decision will frame the competition among Silicon Valley, Hollywood and Madison Avenue, while also establishing what kinds of corporate mergers--in the media industry and beyond--will be permitted in the years to come." Don't expect any momentous announcements soon, though; the trial could last up to two months.

Just briefly:
Ad Age's travel issue is out today, and E.J. Schultz writes about the (surprising?) growth of the market for RVs, which are having record sales and amid reports of more interest from younger buyers. "It used to be people really didn't think about this kind of travel until they retired," Mollie Hansen, chief marketing officer at Airstream, tells Schultz. Also: Two freelance video producers have been traveling the country in an RV since 2014; it's not a vacation, though, since they're working. Read more on how they do it here.

More from our travel issue: To take on the competition, online travel bookers like Expedia and Priceline are offering events and activities beyond hotel and airline reservations, and they're spending big to market themselves to consumers, Ad Age's Adrianne Pasquarelli reports.

News layoffs: Meredith Corp., which just bought Time Inc., is expected to lay off 200-300 employees, The Wall Street Journal reports. The cuts will likely affect mostly Time Inc. corporate employees, the report says.

Just say no: Forty-five U.S. trade groups are petitioning the Trump administration to drop its plans for tariffs on China, The Wall Street Journal reports. The groups represent companies including Apple, Alphabet, IBM, Nike and Walmart; they fear the tariffs could trigger a backlash that would harm U.S. businesses.

'Reptile-human hybrids': YouTube Kids featured "conspiracy theory videos which make claims that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that the planet is ruled by reptile-human hybrids," Business Insider reports. YouTube, already under fire over its offerings for children, responds that it will "continue to work to improve the YouTube Kids experience."

Creativity pick of the day: Here's the latest reminder that we're living in the future: The Times of London used AI to recreate the voice of late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, so it sounds like he's giving the speech he was supposed to deliver the day he was assassinated, as Ad Age's Alexandra Jardine writes. Irish agency Rothco and audio tech company CereProc worked on the 22-minute speech, after reviewing 831 real, analog recordings of Kennedy. The effect is … disturbing.

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