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The 4 big tech stories you missed because of Cannes Lions

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

June 23, 2022 | 8 min read

Cannes was, as ever, a hotbed of tech news from the latest metaverse activations to TikTok trends. But the reality is that the most important tech news took place outside the marketing festival – developments that will have ramifications for the marketing and media worlds for the foreseeable future. Here, then, is all the tech news you missed while sipping wine on the Croisette.

Meta and Microsoft seek to control the metaverse

The race to make the metaverse viable relies in large part on it being interoperable; for its users to have persistent purchases and abilities between different virtual worlds. It is seen as the necessary step to make the metaverse a proper destination for e-commerce. At the moment users’ purchases of virtual goods are limited to the particular platform on which they were purchased.

The world as seen from space, the nodes of cities interconnected through glowing circuit-like highways

The most important tech news this week came from outside Cannes

In an attempt to ameliorate that issue, a group of the largest tech companies in the world has created the Metaverse Standards Forum. Meta, Microsoft and other software and hardware producers have signed up to the scheme – which, given those that have been excluded, is likely to be seen as an attempt to control the e-commerce aspects of the metaverse.

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Crucially, the gaming platform companies that we currently think of first when we think of the metaverse – Roblox and Niantic, in addition to up-and-comers such as Decentraland and The Sandbox – are absent. That speaks to Meta and Microsoft’s desire to take back ownership of a space potentially worth trillions, according to McKinsey – particularly since Apple is also conspicuous by its absence.

Those absences also undercut the potential for true interoperability. Instead this is likely a scale play from those members of the forum, seeking to get ahead of the marketing money that will flow into the metaverse once the audience is large enough.

Google adds LGBTQ+ tagging options

Google has been ambitious in its attempts to increase the relevancy of its search results. In light of suggestions that its search results are too focused on paid-for at the expense of smaller businesses, it has launched tags that companies can elect to add to their profiles in Maps and Search results. In addition to Black-owned, women-owned and others, it has just announced the launch of its LGBTQ+-friendly tag.

Mackenzie Thomas, product and marketing inclusion lead at Google, said: “We want to make it easier for others to find LGBTQ+-owned businesses in their own community. Starting today, merchants in the US with a verified Business Profile on Google can add an LGBTQ+-owned attribute to their profile, making it easier for customers to find and support them through Search and Maps.”

For the moment the tags are only available in the US. It remains to be seen whether the search giant attempts to extend these tags to other countries that discriminate against LGBTQ+ companies and individuals.

Meta agrees to build non-discriminatory algorithms by years’ end

Meta and its properties Facebook and Instagram have been shown to allow ad buyers to discriminate against certain groups. The issue came to a head in 2019 when Facebook (as it was then) was accused of encouraging housing discrimination through its listings.

Now, the Department of Justice in the US has reached a settlement with Meta on the matter. The deal is contingent upon Meta agreeing to build a new non-discriminatory algorithm by the end of the year, in addition to discontinuing the particular housing tool immediately.

If the United States’ Department of Justice concludes that the new system is “insufficient to address” algorithmic discrimination in the delivery of housing ads, then the settlement agreement will be terminated. Notably, this settlement marks the first time that Meta will be subject to court oversight for its ad targeting and delivery system.

To build a new anti-discriminatory algorithm within six months is a tall order for any company. The need to separate the biases of the programmers and developers is an acknowledged and persistent problem within artificial intelligence (AI) development, and it is very unclear whether even a company with Meta’s resources will be able to implement it within the time limit.

Acast and Meta partner on podcasts

While Spotify sits pretty at the top of the podcast investments chart, Meta’s audio focus has deepened through its newly-announced partnership with Acast. The companies are developing an integration between Facebook Groups and Acast Plus, its subscription offering that allows creators to give paying fans exclusive benefits across multiple platforms.

Creators using Acast Plus will be able to offer listeners entry to subscriber-only Facebook Groups where fans can engage with each other, interact directly with podcasters and get access to exclusive benefits including livestreams, Q&As and special events.

Simon Marcus, Acast’s vice-president of strategy, said: “The best parts of the web are powered by platforms that are interoperable – ones that communicate with each other and enable creators to reach their audience wherever they are. Such technology is the foundation of the open podcast ecosystem that Acast has championed since its inception. Interoperability profoundly affects the ability for new businesses to start, creators to thrive and users to access content across platforms – which is key to the technology we’re so excited to be developing with Meta.”

It is an acknowledgment that the community aspect of podcasting is vital to its advertising future, and marks a potential point of differentiation from Spotify, which has mostly invested in ad performance tracking tools. With podcast ad revenue still on the rise, the likelihood is that partnerships and integrations of this nature will increase in number as the competitors within the space seek to set themselves apart.

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