Facebook plans ads revamp in response to privacy concerns

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The Verge 11 August, 2021 - 10:00am 50 views

What will happen to Crunchyroll?

Crunchyroll will continue its commitment to anime and its fans, now under Sony Funimation Global Group. ... Sony first announced it was acquiring Crunchyroll from AT&T at the end of 2020. At the time, the service said it had 3 million subscribers and over 90 million registered users across more than 200 countries. EngadgetSony closes $1.175 billion deal to buy Crunchyroll from AT&T

A ‘very meaningful pivot’ is underway inside the world’s largest social network

The moves by Facebook, which are still in their infancy, illustrate how the ad-supported internet economy is in the process of being fundamentally reshaped. Along with Google, Facebook is examining several privacy-enhancing techniques to deliver personalized ads without knowing anything about the specific individuals who view them. That’s an about-face from how ad targeting has worked online to date.

“We definitely see that [ads] personalization will evolve very meaningfully over the course of the next five years,” said Mudd, Facebook’s VP of product marketing for ads, in an exclusive interview with The Verge. “And that investing well ahead of that will benefit all of our customers and enable us to help shape that future state of the ads ecosystem.”

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Facebook to get this right. Apple recently introduced a prompt to iPhones that makes developers ask for permission to track users across other apps for targeting ads. Facebook has said the prompt will likely hurt its revenue growth. Google is planning something similar for Android phones. The European Union is considering a ban on microtargeted ads as part of a sweeping legislative proposal called the Digital Services Act, and the Biden administration recently signaled interest in policing the “surveillance of users” by “dominant Internet platforms.”

Facebook’s new rhetoric about making advertising more privacy-conscious is also, in a sense, admitting defeat. Last year, it mounted a loud PR campaign in objection to Apple’s ad tracking prompt, arguing that Apple was acting anti-competitively and harming small businesses that relied on ads to reach customers. But the campaign ultimately fell flat, and now Facebook is working on some of the same privacy-conscious approaches to data collection that Apple uses. One example is “differential privacy,” a technique that intentionally messes with datasets to obfuscate individual identities.

A spokesperson for Facebook disagreed with the assertion that this privacy shift for ads marks a defeat in its fight with Apple. “We are advocating for a different and better approach to advancing privacy in advertising,” the spokesperson said. “One that is based on industry collaboration and a focus on supporting small businesses and an open internet economy. Apple’s approach is exactly the opposite: exerting its control over the App Store to benefit its own bottom line.”

Facebook’s problems with Apple, which is currently building up its own ads business, are far from over. Given Apple’s tight control of the iPhone, the two will likely butt heads on an area of technology Facebook is exploring called “on-device learning.” Instead of sending data about users to the cloud, an algorithm runs locally on a phone to determine the kinds of ads someone would find compelling and then show them said ads. The results are later sent back to the cloud in an anonymized and aggregate format for advertisers to review.

“I think one of the challenges with on-device learning is that the compute resources required to do it are obviously under the control of the operating systems themselves,” Mudd told The Verge.

Mudd, a nine-year Facebook veteran and key leader internally on this shift in philosophy about how ads work, spoke to me in conjunction with a corporate blog post published Wednesday that outlines the company’s approach to building privacy-minded ads. We covered a lot of ground, but fair warning that parts of the conversation get somewhat technical.

Graham Mudd, VP of product marketing, Facebook: It’s a very reasonable question. I would say that in general we both understand and frankly believe in the long-term direction of travel that the industry is headed in, which is towards both more transparency [and] more control over a certain type of data. And that type of data is widely referred to as third-party data. But it’s basically the data that businesses share primarily, in the case of advertising, with ad platforms. It’s used for measurement, for ad delivery, and optimization, and targeting and so forth.

And I think what we see in terms of the trends and frankly our own work, both from a regulatory perspective and the platforms — Google and Apple — is that access to that kind of data will become more limited over the course of the next couple of years. That’s just a reflection, I think, of peoples’ changing expectations around privacy. And I think we’re embracing and trying to build for that future.

A big part of building for that future is developing new privacy-enhancing technologies that allow us to do the kinds of things that we have done in the past, like measurement and ad optimization, but in a way that is far more privacy conscious, that doesn’t allow either party, the advertiser or the ad platform — in this case Facebook — to learn new information about individual users.

I don’t think we’ve had any clear guidance from Apple or others about specific technology and whether that’s acceptable given their policy. I think what is clear is that if you read into the approach Apple is taking, when consent isn’t there, that is when a user hasn’t opted in, they absolutely have developed APIs — as have we — to move data back and forth between companies but in a more anonymous way, primarily using aggregation.

This [MPC] is just another approach to anonymous data sharing. Instead of it necessarily being aggregate, you’re using encryption and cryptography technology to ensure that the same end is met, which is that you don’t learn anything about an individual. So philosophically, I think it’s very well aligned. And in fact, I think a lot of experts would say that it is more privacy safe or conscious than just aggregation. Because with aggregation alone, unless there are other protections like differential privacy in place, you can still back into learning about an individual.

Yes, I think one of the challenges with on-device learning is that the compute resources required to do it are obviously under the control of the operating systems themselves.

And so if standards are built around how those resources are accessed and used in ways that support competition, then that makes a lot of sense. One of the benefits of multi-party computation is that it doesn’t necessarily require this central operation through an operating system or a device manufacturer. That is one of the reasons that we’re very interested in MPC relative to federated learning or on-device. But we’re very much supportive of the development there as well.

Good question. I think that it’s definitely more a function of the relative value of the outcomes that our ad platforms drive compared to the outcomes that [advertisers] can drive elsewhere. Like you said, it’s an auction. And so advertisers’ willingness to pay is dictated by basically two things: What is the performance of the platform? And what is that performance relative to what they can get elsewhere? And so those are the core drivers of it.

If our ads become significantly less performant over time, then you can expect that will drive down prices and not drive up prices, at least on a CPM basis, right? Because willingness to pay is dictated by the performance that can be derived through the platform.

Yeah, I mean obviously it’s hard for us to comment on what performance looks like on other platforms. One of the things that we are really concerned about is ensuring that the advertising ecosystem does remain competitive. And I would say that some of the changes that have been introduced make it particularly harder for smaller publishers or ad networks to operate competitively. So I think all the more reason, frankly, for these types of privacy enhancing technologies to consider not just what works for the big guys, but also smaller publishers that have much less opportunity to build out first-party datasets of the kind that larger platforms oftentimes have.

Couldn’t agree more. In general, smaller businesses are the most vulnerable to these types of changes. And so not only is it important for us to build technologies that allow us to maintain the relevance and performance of ads while making meaningful progress on the privacy front; we also have to do it in a way that they can actually implement from a technical complexity perspective without the kinds of expertise that larger advertisers oftentimes have at their disposal. So yeah, it’s a combination of the technology itself and hopefully over time the ease with which it can be implemented.

I was involved in some of the work on commerce during the early days of the pandemic, and what I can tell you is that the primary impetus for the acceleration of our work in that space was the recognition that smaller businesses were really disproportionately harmed, and they were having a really difficult time setting up an online presence and a storefront. And so it was born primarily out of a desire to help to the degree that we could.

I think part of what is so challenging about setting up an e-commerce presence if you are a smaller business these days is the way that data flows in our industry is becoming more and more complex and more and more constrained. And so the point you’re making is a very reasonable one. When you set up a storefront on Facebook, it will be easier for us over time to support that storefront with personalized advertising, given that we don’t need to rely on it being shared through an app over a platform that constraints it. It can be equally, if not more, privacy safe in the sense that it never needs to leave our walls. We’ve reduced the amount of data sharing that’s required, which is, at the end of the day, what I think a lot of these changes are meant to do.

We would be concerned about that for sure. That said, what’s important to us is that, at every step of the process, our users are fully aware of how data is being collected and used and that it’s intuitive to the degree that we can make it so. I think there’s a lot we as an industry can do to make sure that’s the case. And that limits the potential for those types of actions. In many respects, Apple has defined privacy in such a way that as long as data isn’t shared it can be used to support many different products, including advertising. I think many of their products reflect exactly that philosophy. So it might be a bit challenging to constrain it unless they did so for everyone, including themselves.

Yeah, I think your intuition is correct. Unfortunately, we’re not sharing that.

Well, we already have controls that I think are pretty well related to that. We have what’s called an online behavioral advertising control. So you can turn off the use of third-party data for advertising already. You can also — through another control called Off-Facebook Activity— at the advertiser level, decide whether you want data associated with your account and used in advertising.

Now there are, of course, degrees of personalization. And so is there a way, if you’re a user, to reduce all personalization so the ads you see are entirely random? No, that’s not a control we have nor one I can imagine us building, because I think we believe pretty strongly that personalization in marketing is the best possible experience for people and for businesses. But the way that personalization occurs — does it use third-party data versus first-party data, or do I have control over what types of ads are useful and interesting to me — that’s the kind of thing that we are very much invested in and will continue to be.

I think you’re absolutely right that this is a very meaningful pivot. We definitely see that personalization will evolve very meaningfully over the course of the next five years, and that investing well ahead of that will benefit all of our customers and enable us to help shape that future state of the ads ecosystem.

So yeah, there are definitely dedicated teams and hundreds of engineers who are working on these types of technologies. Because data and personalization is at the heart of almost every one of our systems, from targeting to ad optimization to measurement, almost all our systems will be rebuilt over the next couple of years. And that’s already very much in progress, to reflect this change in how data is used in support of advertising.

We certainly do a lot of research into peoples’ sentiments and beliefs around privacy, and those help to shape the investments that we’ve made. I would say that in most of these cases, regulators, policymakers, and the media tend to be both ahead of and helping to shape consumer opinion here, as is their role. What we’re trying to build for is that longer-term future state. And if you just look at the trends in both regulation, platform changes, and consumer sentiment, this approach to us makes a lot of sense.

So yeah, I think if your read is that the policy elite are ahead of the general population in terms of their understanding on this? Yes, I think that is accurate. But we are seeing consumer sentiments shift as well.

I think there have been many folks who have pointed out the paradox between privacy and competition. I think that’s what you’re driving at, and I agree that relationship exists and it’s something that we need to be really conscious of. I think there definitely are ways to improve privacy that end up harming competition meaningfully. But I think there are also approaches that don’t have that effect, or at least have a much less meaningful impact on competition.

To be honest, I think one of the most important ways to do that is through industry collaboration. And in some cases, we’ve seen that work really well. And in other cases, when that’s not there, what we end up seeing is that the either intended or unintended consequence becomes much more real. Put simply, I would say collaboration is the best antidote to the potential competitive harms of privacy changes.

Yeah, these are the types of technologies that we are very much seeking feedback on and talking about in forums like the W3C, where Google is a very meaningful participant. We absolutely hope that they will continue to engage on this and provide feedback. And the same is true of our other partners in the industry. But I just want to be super clear: I think our view is that the path forward here is likely an ensemble of privacy enhancing technologies.

It’s not a situation of it’s FLoC or MPC. FLoC addresses a specific use case — behavioral targeting — without revealing anything about a given individual. And the beta that we have running right now is really focused on measurement. In some cases federated learning is going to be the right underlying technology to implement to support a given use case. And in other cases it might be multi-party computation. I don’t think there’s necessarily a silver bullet here. And these technologies don’t necessarily compete with each other because they’re addressing, in some cases at least, different use cases.

I think you can assume that over time they do become more anonymous, or at least more privacy conscious for sure. I’ll give you an example on lookalikes: Right now lookalikes often use a seed audience — a group of people that an advertiser knows or has a relationship with. If an advertiser and Facebook have the consent of that user to share that user-level information, then our expectation is that will continue and should continue. Consent will play a really important role in products like that.

But in cases where we don’t have consent, that’s where privacy enhancing technologies like multi-party computation can actually play a pretty meaningful role in trying to understand which types of people would find an ad relevant without ever learning about individual people. The whole point of a lookalike audience is actually not to target necessarily distinct individuals that have been identified by one of our partners; it’s to find new customers. And MPC allows us to identify those users without learning about the individuals that might have been the audience in the past.

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Funimation and Crunchyroll's Anime Mega-Merger Is Complete

Gizmodo 12 August, 2021 - 05:30am

Today, Sony and AT&T announced that the ink has finally dried on the $1.175 billion deal making Crunchyroll a part of Sony’s larger portfolio of dubbed, localized anime content that it owns the distribution rights to. In a statement, Sony expressed how the move is part of the company’s plan to bolster its offering to consumers. “Crunchyroll adds tremendous value to Sony’s existing anime businesses, including Funimation and our terrific partners at Aniplex and Sony Music Entertainment Japan,” Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Tony Vinciquierra said. “With Crunchyroll and Funimation, we are committed to creating the ultimate anime experience for fans and presenting a unique opportunity for our key partners, publishers, and the immensely talented creators to continue to deliver their masterful content to audiences around the world.

When Sony and AT&T first announced the plans for Crunchyroll, there were some understandable concerns about antitrust and monopolies considering Funimation and Crunchyroll’s size and dominance within the anime space. As the Verge notes, in addition to producing anime, Crunchyroll also publishes manga, puts on anime conventions, and has purchased anime production companies outright, solidly establishing it as one of the power players within the industry. This deal is only going to make Funimation’s footprint that much larger and, in theory, encourage anime fans to flock even deeper into another walled garden within the larger ongoing streaming wars.

PlayStation Plus Premium Subscription Rumored, May Include Newly-Acquired Crunchyroll

Wccftech 12 August, 2021 - 05:30am

Today Sony announced they had finalized their purchase of the Crunchyroll subscription service for $1.18 billion. This is obviously big news for anime fans, but it could also mean something for PlayStation owners as well. According to Eurogamer, Sony is planning a more expensive PlayStation Plus premium tier, which would potentially include a subscription to Crunchyroll and other streaming services.

Of course, take this with a grain of salt until we get an official announcement, but Eurogamer usually delivers the goods with rumors. Sony offering Crunchyroll along with PS Plus would make it more competitive with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which Microsoft has been sweetening with additional subscriptions to things like Xbox Live Gold and EA Play.

Sony has been increasing their stake in the world of anime for some time now, as they already owned the anime distribution and streaming company Funimation. According to Sony Pictures CEO Tony Vinciquerra, the company plans to amalgamate Crunchyroll and Funimation into a single anime streaming service as soon as they can…

With Crunchyroll and Funimation, we are committed to creating the ultimate anime experience for fans and presenting a unique opportunity for our key partners, publishers, and the immensely talented creators to continue to deliver their masterful content to audiences around the world. With the addition of Crunchyroll, we have an unprecedented opportunity to serve anime fans like never before and deliver the anime experience across any platform they choose, from theatrical, events, home entertainment, games, streaming, linear TV -- everywhere and every way fans want to experience their anime. Our goal is to create a unified anime subscription experience as soon as possible.

What do you think? Would you be interested in a higher-tier PlayStation Plus subscription if it included bonuses like Crunchyroll? What kind of incentives would you need to get on board?

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Sony Has Purchased Anime Streamer Crunchyroll For $1 Billion

TheGamer 12 August, 2021 - 05:30am

Although we're talking about parent companies, the deal will actually see Crunchyroll rolled into Funimation Global Group, the anime subsidiary of Sony. Crunchyroll brings 120 million members and five million paid subscribers from 200 regions and countries from around the world and catapults the streaming service into competition with the likes of Netflix and Hulu.

“Crunchyroll adds tremendous value to Sony’s existing anime businesses, including Funimation and our terrific partners at Aniplex and Sony Music Entertainment Japan,” said Tony Vinciquerra, Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. "With the addition of Crunchyroll, we have an unprecedented opportunity to serve anime fans like never before and deliver the anime experience across any platform they choose, from theatrical, events, home entertainment, games, streaming, linear TV--everywhere and every way fans want to experience their anime. Our goal is to create a unified anime subscription experience as soon as possible.”

As Crunchyroll states on their website, it's being combined with Funimation into a single entity. So far, there's no explanation on whether Crunchyroll will even continue to exist as its own entity, whether the streaming service will continue to operate, or whether subscribers will be forced to switch to a Funimation subscription.

“We know you may have questions,” the company wrote. “Today we begin the work of bringing two awesome teams together to bring you more of what you love. Thank you for your trust and support!"

Not really all that helpful. Furthermore, Crunchyroll isn’t just about streaming. Crunchyroll also provides manga, publishes mobile games, and has its own merch distribution. We’ll have to wait and see how all this shakes out.

Freelance writer and contributor at The Gamer, Sean hails from Toronto, Canada. If you ask Sean what he likes, he'll say, "Robots, Ninjas, donuts - in that order."

Funimation Completes Crunchyroll Acquisition in Massive $1.2B Deal

Epicstream 12 August, 2021 - 05:30am

Funimation Completes Crunchyroll Acquisition in Massive $1.2B Deal

The merger is now complete. Funimation has successfully acquired the anime streaming service Crunchyroll in a massive $1.2 billion deal. The merger brings the two streamers under the Sony Pictures Entertainment banner just shortly after it was revealed that the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating for potential antitrust violations.

Back in December, it was revealed that Sony had been planning to acquire Crunchyroll in an effort to "broaden distribution" of anime content and "expand fan-centric offerings for consumers." The deal was finally made on Monday, August 9, resulting in what is seen as the biggest anime streamer merger in history.

Sony CEO Kenichiro Yoshida is understandably delighted with the deal.

"We are very excited to welcome Crunchyroll to the Sony Group," Yoshida said in a statement.

"Anime is a rapidly growing medium that enthralls and inspires emotion among audiences around the globe. The alignment of Crunchyroll and Funimation will enable us to get even closer to the creators and fans who are the heart of the anime community. We look forward to delivering even more outstanding entertainment that fills the world with emotion through anime," Yoshida concluded.

The merger gives Sony unlimited access to over a huge catalog of anime shows. Needless to say, the deal is timed perfectly now that anime is on the rise and looks far from slowing down.

Interestingly, the merger was completed shortly after it was confirmed that the U.S. Department of Justice was looking into the deal for potential antitrust violations. The investigation was reportedly started after the U.S. government allegedly wanted to check whether the deal would provide Sony with a monopoly over anime streaming.

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Funimation's Parent Company Sony Officially Acquires Crunchyroll from AT&T — GeekTyrant

GeekTyrant 10 August, 2021 - 11:00am

Funimation has officially acquired Crunchyroll. Earlier this week, Sony announced the news and that the purchase has gone through regulatory approvals and everything. Sony paid AT&T $1.175 billion for Crunchyroll which grows the company’s ability to distribute anime across the world. It also gives Funimation access to Crunchyroll’s mobile games, manga, merchandise, and more. Talking about the deal, Kenichiro Yoshida of Sony Group Corporation said:

We are very excited to welcome Crunchyroll to the Sony Group. Anime is a rapidly growing medium that enthralls and inspires emotion among audiences around the globe. The alignment of Crunchyroll and Funimation will enable us to get even closer to the creators and fans who are the heart of the anime community. We look forward to delivering even more outstanding entertainment that fills the world with emotion through anime.

Tony Vinciquerra of Sony Pictures Entertainment added:

With the addition of Crunchyroll, we have an unprecedented opportunity to serve anime fans like never before and deliver the anime experience across any platform they choose, from theatrical, events, home entertainment, games, streaming, linear TV—everywhere and every way fans want to experience their anime. Our goal is to create a unified anime subscription experience as soon as possible.

There’s no word on how this will affect Crunchyroll subscribers or any related programs like VRV, but I’m sure news will come in the not too distant future. All we know is that anime fans will soon have one service to subscribe to where there used to be two.

Personally, I’m really bothered by this acquisition. For starters, Funimation and Crunchyroll are the biggest names in anime streaming. It’s like if Netflix acquired Hulu. There’s now a lot less competition in the anime streaming sector. Also, Funimation’s streaming service always has problems while Crunchyroll has been much better. I’m worried that fans will end up with a much worse product now. The one positive that I really see coming out of this deal is that maybe it means more simuldubs and dubs in general for anime titles that have been on Crunchyroll. What do you think of this deal? Are you excited?

Yay for anime! Funimation and @Crunchyroll are one company today. Now we can start the crazy fun work of bringing our worlds together. 👉 Read more: https://t.co/e6rPufJ1h6

When I'm not writing for GameTyrant or GeekTyrant, I enjoy playing games and running my YouTube channel Poor Man Pedals for guitarists. For official inquiries, please email me: tommy.williams@geektyrant.com || @tyguitaxe

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