This week, the biggest news story in tech was probably a toss-up between Google video ads not meeting expected quality standards, and the Microsoft/Activision Blizzard antitrust hearings.

For the latter, I'll simply point you to this excellent episode of The Daily podcast: Is Washington Finally Ready to Take On Big Tech?

But on the former, one of the spiciest perspectives I've seen comes from Dr. Augustine Fou: How do we un-fu***k digital advertising? He argues that the real issue is the push towards 'easy buttons' — specifically, self-optimizing algorithmic campaign types like Performance Max (Google) and Advantage+ (Meta).

Dr. Fou is a well-known personality in the world of ad fraud prevention, and happens to sell a product (Fou Analytics) designed to detect exactly this kind of fraud. But that doesn't mean he's wrong: these black box models are inscrutable, and it's no secret that they are built and run by huge companies with objectives that only partly align with what matters to advertisers.

If you're feeling generous, inscrutability means these algorithms might end up optimizing for the wrong things without anyone realizing it (the paperclip maximizer problem). With a less charitable perspective, one could easily argue that these companies might be designing for outcomes that advertisers would certainly not prefer…were they to be aware.

And that brings us — finally — to my world-of-mobile-growth tie-in for this story: one significant outcome of Apple's crusade against 'tracking' has been more insular walled gardens, and an attribute of insular walled gardens is fewer options for the independent observation and validation that eventually illuminated this particular issue.

Alex Bauer

Industry Buzz

Walled Gardens

Privacy & Security