Google’s lead EU regulator opens formal privacy probe of its adtech

Google’s lead data regulator in Europe has opened a formal investigation into its processing of personal data in the context of its online Ad Exchange, TechCrunch has learnt.

This follows a privacy complaint pertaining to adtech’s real-timing bidding (RTB) system filed under Europe’s GDPR framework last year.

The statutory inquiry into Google’s adtech that’s being opened by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), cites section 110 of Ireland’s Data Protection Act 2018, which means that the watchdog suspects infringement — and will now investigate its suspicions.

The DPC writes that the inquiry is “to establish whether processing of personal data carried out at each stage of an advertising transaction is in compliance with the relevant provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation, including the lawful basis for processing, the principles of transparency and data minimisation, as well as Google’s retention practices”.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment.

As we reported earlier this week complaints about the RTB system used by online advertisers have been stacking up across Europe.

The relevant complaint in this instance was lodged last fall by Dr Johnny Ryan of private browser Brave, and alleges “wide-scale and systemic breaches of the data protection regime” by Google and others in the behavioral advertising industry.

Where Google is concerned the complaint focuses on its DoubleClick/Authorized Buyers ad system.

In a nutshell, the RTB complaints argue the system is inherently insecure — and that’s incompatible with GDPR’s requirement that personal data is processed “in a manner that ensures appropriate security”.

Commenting on the Irish DPC opening an inquiry in a statement, Ryan said: “Surveillance capitalism is about to become obsolete. The Irish Data Protection Commission’s action signals that now — nearly one year after the GDPR was introduced — a change is coming that goes beyond just Google. We need to reform online advertising to protect privacy, and to protect advertisers and publishers from legal risk under the GDPR”.

Similar complaints against RTB have been filed in the UK, Poland, Spain, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Ireland is leading the investigation of Google’s adtech as the company designates Google Ireland as the data controller for EU users.

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These startups are locating in SF and Africa to win in global fintech

To become a global fintech player, locate your company in San Francisco and Africa.

That’s the approach of payments company Flutterwave, digital lending startup Mines, and mobile-money venture Chipper Cash—Africa-founded ventures that maintain headquarters in San Francisco and operations in Africa to tap the best of both worlds in VC, developers, clients, and the frontier of digital finance.

This arrangement wasn’t exactly coordinated across the ventures, but TechCrunch coverage picked up the trend and some common motives among these rising fintech firms.

Founded in 2016 by Nigerians Iyinoluwa Aboyeji and Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad.

Clients can tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber,  Booking.com and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

The Y-Combinator backed company is headquartered in San Francisco, runs its operations center in Nigeria, and plans to add offices in South Africa and Cameroon.

Flutterwave opened an office in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October. The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

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Subscription fatigue hasn’t hit yet

U.S. consumers are still embracing subscriptions. More than a third (34%) of Americans say they believe they’ll increase the number of subscription services they use over the next two years, according to a new report from eMarketer. This is following an increase to 3 subscription services on average, up from 2.4 services five years ago.

The report cited data from subscription platform Zuora and The Harris Poll in making these determinations.

The study also debunks the idea that we’ve reached a point of subscription fatigue.

While only a third is planning to increase the number of subscriptions — a figure that’s in line with the worldwide average — the larger majority of U.S. internet users said they planned to use the same number of subscriptions services within two years as they do now.

In other words, they’re not paring down their subscriptions just yet — in fact, only 7 percent said they planned to subscribe to fewer services in the two years ahead.

However, that’s both good news and bad news for the overall subscription industry. On the one hand, it means there’s a healthy base of potential subscribers for new services. But it also means that many people may only adopt a new subscription by dropping another — perhaps to maintain their current budget.

Subscriptions, after all, may still feel like luxuries. No one needs Netflix, Spotify, groceries delivered to their home or curated clothing selections sent by mail, for example. There are non-subscription alternatives that are much more affordable. The question is which luxuries are worth the recurring bill?

The survey, however, did not define subscription services, which could include news and magazine subscriptions, digital streaming services, subscription box services, and more. But it did ask about consumers’ interest in the various categories.

Over half of U.S. consumers (57%) said they were interested in TV and video-on-demand services (like Netflix) and 38 percent were interested in music services.

Related to this, eMarketer forecasts U.S. over-the-top video viewers will top 193 million by 2021, or 57.3 percent of the population. Digital audio listeners will top 211 million by the same time, or 63.1 percent of the population.

The next most popular subscriptions in the survey were grocery delivery like AmazonFresh (32%) and meal delivery like Blue Apron (21%). Software and storage services like iCloud and subscription beauty services like Ipsy followed, each with 17 percent.

Consumers were less interested in subscription news and information and subscription boxes — the latter only saw 10 percent interest, in fact.

The figures should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. The meal kit market is actually struggling. The consulting firm NPD Group estimated that only 4 percent of U.S. consumers have even tried them. So there’s a big disconnect between what consumers say they’re interested in, and what they actually do.

Meanwhile, the supposedly less popular news and information services market is, in some cases, booming. The New York Times, for instance, just this month posted a higher profit and added 223,000 digital subscribers to reach 4.5 million paying customers. And Apple now has “hundreds of people” working on Apple News+, it said this week. 

Of course, consumers will at some point reach a limit on the number of services they’re willing to pay for, but for the time being, the subscription economy appears solid.

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Invites are out for Apple’s June 3 WWDC keynote — there will be unicorns

Apple’s WWDC keynote invites just went out, with only a couple of weeks to spare. The company’s graphic designers appear to be having some fun this time out, with a mind-blown rainbow unicorn, losing the Apple, Swift and App Store icons among others.

iOS 13, watchOS 6 and macOS 10.15 are no doubt on the books for this year’s event. I’d anticipate a lot more from the Apple TV side of things as well, in the wake of the big event earlier in the year.

Last year’s big show was completely devoid of hardware, though that could certainly change. Apple’s interestingly been in the habit of announcing small releases just ahead of its big shows this year, and that continues with this week’s announcement of new MacBook Pros with faster processors and, more importantly, updated keyboards.

The big show starts at 10AM PT on June 3. We’ll be there — though I’m still trying to get my colleagues to bring their unicorn onesies. I’ll keep you posted.

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DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg is coming to Disrupt

2019 is the year Facebook announced a ‘pivot to privacy’. At the same time, Google is trying to claim that privacy means letting it exclusively store and data-mine everything you do online. So what better time to sit down at Disrupt for a chat about what privacy really means with DuckDuckGo founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg?

We’re delighted to announce that Weinberg is joining us at Disrupt SF (October 2-4).

The pro-privacy search engine he founded has been on a mission to shrink the shoulder-surfing creepiness of Internet searching for more than a decade, serving contextual keyword-based ads, rather than pervasively tracking users to maintain privacy-hostile profiles. (If you can’t quite believe the decade bit; here’s DDG’s startup Elevator Pitch — which we featured on TC all the way back in 2008.)

It’s a position that looks increasingly smart as big tech comes under sharper political and regulatory scrutiny on account of the volume of information it’s amassing. (Not to mention what it’s doing with people’s data.)

Despite competing as a self-funded underdog against the biggest tech giants around, DuckDuckGo has been profitable and gaining users at a steady clip for years. It also recently took in a chunk of VC to capitalize on what its investors see as a growing international opportunity to help Internet users go about their business without being intrusively snooped on. Which makes a compelling counter narrative to the tech giants.

In more recent developments it has added a tracker blocker to its product mix — and been dabbling in policy advocacy — calling for a revival of a Do Not Track browser standard, after earlier attempts floundered with the industry, failing to reach accord.

The political climate around privacy and data protection does look to be pivoting in such a way that Do Not Track could possibly swing back into play. But if — and, yes it’s a big one — privacy ends up being a baked in Internet norm how might a pioneer like DuckDuckGo maintain its differentiating edge?

While, on the flip side, what if tech giants end up moving in on its territory by redefining privacy in their own self-serving image? We have questions and will be searching Weinberg for answers.

There’s also the fact that many a founder would have cut and run just half a decade into pushing against the prevailing industry grain. So we’re also keen to mine his views on entrepreneurial patience, and get a better handle on what makes him tick as a person — to learn how he’s turned a passion for building people-centric, principled products into a profitable business.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 – October 4 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.

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