GDPR is here, but Google is still in a standoff with publishing trade reps

Some publishers have argued that placing liability on them to obtain user consent was "troubling" / Google

GDPR is well and truly here, but a number of publishing trade bodies sat out of talks with Google on Thursday (24 May) – showing that the tech giant is struggling to assuage some publishers over its GDPR policies.

Trade groups representing media owners on both sides of the Atlantic snubbed Google's invite yesterday. Instead, a cohort of representatives implored the company to issue a written response to questions they posed to Google in an open letter three weeks ago about its "imposing" post-GDPR rules.

Reuters has reported that the Alphabet-owned firm has sought to ease online publisher concerns at the New York meeting – which was telecast to other major markets like London – by saying the company would roll out "additional tools" to assist publishers in June and August. It's understood part of this includes signing up to Interactive Advertising Bureau Europe’s and IAB Tech Lab’s Transparency and Consent framework.

One source told The Drum that they weren't aware of any major UK newspaper publishers who attended the meeting. The Drum understands Trinity Mirror did not go, and has contacted News UK and Guardian Media Group for further clarity on this.

The Drum has also reached out to Google to ask how many publishers attended the meeting (which has been reported at around 70) and what was discussed, but the tech giant was unable to divulge specific details.

However, among those who refused to take up their seat at the table this week were the News Media Association, News Media Alliance, European Publishers Council and Digital Content Next.

'Clarity and transparency'

In a statement to The Drum, Lynne Anderson, the deputy chief executive of the News Media Association said in lieu of a response from Google she felt it would be "inappropriate" for the body to join this private meeting.

“In the interests of clarity and transparency, we do require a written response to our questions. Unfortunately discussions behind closed doors have not alleviated the confusion and concern across the industry over Google’s plans and the impact these may have on publishers," she added.

Elsewhere, the chief executive of the News Media Alliance president and chief executive David Chavernwhich counts German publisher Axel Springer and the Los Angeles Times among its members, said Google has only added to the "complexity and confusion" around GDPR by its attempt to "impose yet more requirements on publishers."

“The GDPR, which is a highly complex set of regulations, went into effect today and we will continue to keep our members informed to avoid confusion," he added.

European Publishers Council director Angela Mills Wade also said the group felt the "timing was wrong" because so many questions remain unanswered and "bilateral discussions" are going on between individual publishers and local Google representatives.

"The European Publishers Council would like a clearer overall position clarified before going into any open discussion. We are expecting a reply in writing to our questions and we would expect Google to do the right thing given their impact on publishers’ advertising businesses," she added.

One of publishers' main gripes with Google is down to a policy change that will see it classify itself as a "data controller", effectively limiting its ability to share data generated through the use its suite of adtech tools – namely DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP), Ad Exchange, AdMob and AdSense.

Some publishers have argued that placing liability on them to obtain user consent was "troubling".

Slow to react?

Google has previously said it has "built a solution for publishers that want to show non-personalised ads, using only contextual information," which it's understood to have elaborated a bit on in the meeting on Thursday.

One adtech consultant recently told The Drum that the biggest concern among publishers they had spoken to was how slow Google had been. “Publishers are a little bit scared about Google having their data anyway, so I think that’s why the meeting came about," they said.

“Google obviously has a massive business outwith digital publishing, so is it really going to change its ways and take on more risk if it could upset investors and other parts of the business? It will be interesting to see if anyone can move Google.”

Dave Grimaldi, executive vice-president of digital trade body the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) described the talks as "productive" on Twitter.

"Productive meeting at Google today with many publishers around the table. Robust Q&A and positive momentum. Highlighted challenges of complying with a law when so little guidance is available. Open dialogue is a necessity," he said.

In a statement, Google said: "Over the last year, we’ve engaged with over 10,000 of our publishers, advertisers and agencies across nearly 60 countries through events, workshops and conversations around the changes we’re making to be compliant with the GDPR.

"We will continue to open our doors to our publisher partners to engage in these discussions on GDPR compliance.”

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