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Behind the Walled Gardens

Andrew Dabbs, Digital Media Strategist at The MediaShop

Over the Easter period, I was fortunate enough to travel and see my 95 year old granny in the beautiful county of Sussex. Only there for a short stay and sticking to a 95 year old’s schedule, I grabbed a newspaper one morning with my cup of tea. There were two very interesting articles on Facebook and Google, not something we get a lot of back home. The underlying theme was that of content safety. Here are some of my thoughts…..

 The world of AI and content have a long way to go.

Facebook has come under extreme scrutiny over the last few years and even more so following the latest global terrorist attacks. Mark Zuckerburg has pledged to hire an army of content moderators to clean up the content on their platforms including WhatsApp and Instagram. Why? Because Facebook has been blamed for everything from provoking genocide to undermining democracy and abetting suicide.

We keep hearing about artificial intelligence (AI), but why does one of the world’s largest internet giants with profits of $4.5bn need to hire 30 000 moderators for content? We are clearly leaps and bounds away from what the actual possibilities are, and it is imperative to remember that the code for AI is only as strong as its input. Consumers also have various perceptions in terms of what’s offensive, so it will be interesting to see how the clean-up goes, although it appears it may be easier to change the interface of the newsfeed (vertical) to the Stories format, to try and clean up the content! There will be more to say on that at a later stage.

 Chrome encryption, a new Google threat to children.

Google has been in talks for ages regarding the reformatting of Chrome, changing the algorithm to remove cookies and to have their own encryption. These steps however will make it harder to block harmful material including everything from pornography to terrorist propaganda. The new version will bypass most parental control systems and undermine attempts to increase internet safety which is also reliant on broadband providers identifying harmful or age inappropriate material. An encrypted browser makes it impossible for companies to detect and filter out offensive or illegal material.

We already face limited sight of advertising spend and user information, so an encryption on the browser would ultimately result in less transparency and flexibility to work with on Google. This will leave advertisers powerless and customers helpless on the internet giant’s interpretation and ability to provide information. With a blemished track record in content interpretation, is encrypting the browser just a step too far in removing any third party verification.

 What’s the takeout?

We often turn towards Facebook and Google when advertising in South Africa because of the size of their audiences. They have amazing user demographics, location information and ad formats to reach our audiences.

However, could we be sacrificing reach for context? Is there value in having advertising on a platform where your friend marks himself safe in the Durban floods, a death of a beloved pet or another tagged post from that annoying couple who is always letting you know what they are eating out?

Transparency should be key to change an algorithm that could affect customers and ultimately benefit your own business. On the 8th May a meeting will be held by the National Cyber Security Centre to determine the risks posed by this change to Chrome.

Ultimately we need to do what’s right for our brands, operating in a safe environment, next to certified relevant content and with trusted open partners. With all that’s happened in recent times, maybe life behind the walled gardens is not as pleasant as one is meant to believe.

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