Ep 74: Amazon & Google pander to the FTC, American Privacy Act: Opt-In/Out Battle, Instagram goes local

Amazon & Google pander to the FTC on reviews, American Privacy Act might become law but Opt-In/Out battle remains, Instagram (& Facebook) finally goes local with discovery search

Ep 74: Amazon & Google pander to the FTC, American Privacy Act: Opt-In/Out Battle, Instagram goes local
Photo by Eaters Collective / Unsplash

Part 1 Video start 0:13 - Amazon & Google pander to the FTC on reviews

Part 2 Video start 8:41 - American Privacy Act might become law but Opt-In/Out battle remains

Part 3 Video start 15:04 - Instagram goes local with discovery search

Reference Articles:

  1. Amazon Targets Fake Review Fraudsters on Social Media
  2. Update on one-star review scams
  3. American Privacy Act: Opt-In/Out Battle
  4. Instagram Map #LocalSearch

Transcript Ep 74:

Greg: Here we are once again with the Near Memo. It's David, Mike and Greg talking about search social and commerce through a local lens. And we've got an action packed episode as always for you. We're going start off today with Mike  who's going talk about some of the recent developments around review fraud, the one star review extortion scam, and Amazon.

Effort to take down some of the Facebook groups that are generating a lot of the fake reviews. So Mike take it away. So

Mike: Amazon in a fancy press release announced that they were requesting.

Greg: Did you say fancy press release

Mike:  in a detailed press release, noted that they were asking Facebook to take down 10,000 groups where fake reviews were sold and they were on, they, they were acting in best interest of consumers. Google also noted that they were going to, that they just recently learned about the extortion efforts and restaurants and that they were going do something about it. So in Amazon's case of the 10,000, Facebook only took down 5,000 of these groups.

Now, either Amazon sort of threw in an extra 5,000, just for the round number of asking for group takedowns of groups or Facebook, isn't there doing the job, which is equally possible. It was definitely performance theater. The piece that got me was the quote here

“To permanently rid fake reviews across retail travel and other sectors were required. Greater public private partnership, including collaboration between the affected companies, social media sites and law enforcement, all focused on a goal of greater consumer protection. Amazon remains eager to continue to partner with all the relevant stakeholders to achieve that mutual goal”.

This is from a company that like Google created an environment where it was obvious many many years ago that fake reviews were a problem. They put virtually zero effort into it. Google, equally culpable, finally acknowledged this scam we've seen in the press for the last three weeks. Every major city, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Miami were being new, New York, all these places.

Finally, it made it to the New York Times and the Guardian, and they finally posted a post by a low level community manager that they've recently became aware of a scam targeting businesses , which is total BS. They've known of this scam forever. In fact, I wrote about this scam in 2011. It's been an ongoing since then.

And they said, all you gotta do is flag the reviews on their review, flagging software. In other words, they're not doing anything special here. They're just letting their Indian subcontractors take the reviews down as search engine land said: sometimes.

So both of these are just performance theater in light of the FTC finally saying that they're going hold these folks accountable. In fact, Facebook did similar performance theater a couple weeks ago. In talking to people who've been trying to get Facebook reviews taken down that are clearly of similar ilk nobody's home.

So between Facebook, Amazon, and Google, they've created this morass and as is typical Amazon says, well, it's everybody's problem, you know? So anyway, sorry that wasn't a talk. That was a rant.

Greg: One, one question that arises in my mind is, is what kind of action could the FTC take against the platforms? Given the liability shield that section 230 of the Communications decency act provides them. I don't think there is any action. Really fake reviews are a form of consumer deception, the FTC earlier, put everybody on notice that they had new endorsement guidelines, including reviews, and that if different tools and platforms didn't comply, then they would be potentially subject to whatever.

Fines remedies are available now to the FTC, but I, I think there's a kind of conflict between that and section 230, but that's, that's a sort of a legal question that may never get answered, but I, I, so let me, I go ahead.

David: Let me ask, let me ask you this. Do you think that an and sort of, sort of an ongoing public shaming by the FTC with the depth and detail that a government organization can provide in terms of the number of instances and the prevalence of these instances would be enough that just the brand hit to these three platforms might be enough. And, and maybe even more significant than some sort of financial penalty or,

Greg: well, definitely, definitely more directive.

Definitely the shaming in the public repudiation is more significant to these brands than the financial penalties in the us. In Europe, it's a little bit of a different story now, but I think that my, my own view is, is that the, that these fake reviews and the growing awareness of fake reviews is contributing to a certain level of declining trust that may be driving some people.

to other places, certainly I've stopped paying any attention to Amazon reviews at all. I buy stuff on Amazon. I don't read the reviews at all, and it's been a great relief actually. But, but I, so, and I think some of what's going on with the gen Z and TikTok and Instagram taking, taking some of the share from Google in local search, which we're going talk about and a little bit later.

is, is partly fueled by a lack of trust in the content that that people are seeing. I mean, I, I'm not saying that that's the main driver, but I think that that's playing at the margins. So I think these. These platforms do need to really be concerned about public perceptions. And I think the shaming that you described would, would get them to take some action, but I'm not sure that it would be different than what Mike is railing against.

You know, this kind of performance review enforcement theater, where. It's a well trodden playbook at this point from, yeah, I mean, they say we're taking, they, they file a symbolic lawsuit and they, and they point to this, this or that mitigation that they're doing, but they don't do it consistently. And they don't have a, a structured program.

David: Well, there's nothing proactive about it. Yeah. Right. It's all. It's.

Greg: Although they, based on. They all say that our algorithms are removing millions of fake reviews before consumers ever see them. Amazon said that in the re in the release that you're talking about, Mike.

Mike: And Google consistently says this.

The other thing about the Google response, which I find fascinating is that it's reflective of not just their review playbook. But their problem playbook when Google runs into issues, Google measures problems in the marketplace, like they measure everything, they track it. And when there's a certain amount of noise in the marketplace, you know, if it was just Houston, they might not have responded.

But then Houston, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and finally the New York times, they ultimately responded and said, oh, we're doing something. Search engine land and search engine round table dutifly report out as them doing something all they're really doing is acknowledging that there is a problem, but it's a problem we've known about for 10 years and hoping people will stop talking about it.

And so this is their playbook, and then they just go on doing what they've been doing, which is not allocating resources to creating a effective mechanism to monitor and moderate reviews. because it's “too expensive”, requires too much human intervention.

Greg: It's not too expensive.

David: It's not a fun problem for, it's not a fun problem for a product team to work on. That's ultimately I think what right, exactly.

Mike: I put that in, in, in quotes. I wasn't, well,

Greg: in, in fairness to, to, to Barry Schwartz, to search engine land, I, I said something sort of similar. I gave Google, I gave Google some credit for addressing the problem, but now.

Now that you've enlightened me I retract everything positive. I said about Google we'll be updating that story with an editor's note. Yes, yes. Which is a bunch of expletives I'm going put in there. All right. So let's, let's, let's move on to item number two, which is mine today kind of obscure.

Discussion going on around the American data and privacy protection act, which had long been kind of stalled in committee. Because there were a lot of intractable disputes between Republicans and Democrats about. This national privacy act and what was going happen to state privacy laws and, and many other things now has moved out of committee based on some compromises that were struck.

And that's a very, very big deal because most bills die in committee. So now that it's out of committee, there may be a floor vote and it may go, it may pass the house. And may get through the Senate because they've, they've addressed some of the things that Maria can't well, I think is concerning despite targeting

David: Chuck Schumer's biggest donors.

I'm a little skeptical of that.

Greg: Well, we'll see. We'll see how that, and that's also true. That's also true of the antitrust legislation as well, same, same issue, but at least it now has a, a there's there's more of a chance that'll get, get to a vote. Now, one of the, the things that I, that I talked about on Wednesday, Important is that among other things, it contains language about data collection and ad targeting, and there seem to be contradictory provisions in the act where in one instance, it says you need express consent, affirmative express consent.

I forget the verbatim language, meaning opt in. and in another, it talks about opt out, opt out scenarios where people will be given the op opportunity to opt out sort of globally or whatever. Those are two very, very different and very material dimensions to this. And the, and the industry of course, is lobbying for opt out.

Right. There were, there was a, a letter submitted to the, the committee about this should be an opt out statute because that will allow the, the internet to still function based on advertising. If it's opt in and people have to give consent to data being collected and an targeting, we're going see very, very low opt in rates.

I mean, the, the apple. By analogy, the apple opt-in rate is about arguably it's less than 25%. Depends on there's there's ways to manipulate that number. But it's, it's 75% of people said no. And if it's opt out, then it's obviously going be. No change. Most people don't opt out. Most people don't know how to opt out.

Often. These companies make it very difficult to opt out. You're not confident when you're going through the motions, that, of what you're going get. There's no confirmation of anything. CCPA, the California consumer privacy act is a, do you know is an opt. Privacy law do not sell my, my data. I think that's had very, very little impact because it's just difficult to opt out it's diff.

And when

Mike: you do opt out, like I have attempt with Google, you are continually nagged about opting in for photos or

Greg: this or that. Yeah. And they, and they, I, I, I, I said this before, but I. That opt out is itself intrinsically a dark pattern unless it's made so simple, reject everything. And you know, you're done one click and you're done, but that's not the way most of these things work.

So add choices for years, as an example was an, you know, an opportunity for you to opt out of behavioral targeting across the internet. And you know, nobody did it basical. And that that I think is an illustration of what would happen if this privacy act remains opt out, or if they, they they come down on that side, I think it should be opt in, especially given all the, the backdrop of all the data being used against you to prosecute you and to surveil you and all that.

I think we ne we now need to move to an opt-in regime. any, any disagreement with that?

Mike: No, I just would comment that you seem optimistic that our current form of government is capable of executing an opt in deal, which I I'm with David. I do not think given the relationships that and how they're I see this as unlikely.

To be effective

Greg: in the end. Well, you, you may be right, but let's, let's just consider for a moment before we, we move to the Instagram discussion let's consider for a moment, the, the, the sort of doomsday scenario that the industry repeatedly comes back to that if, if they lose the opt out provision, then you know, the sky will fall in terms of ad supported content.

I don't think that that's true. I mean, I think you could do all kinds of things with contextual targeting magazine magazines had a very long and successful career, right?

David: Exactly. Running demographically, targeted ads based on their content. Not

Greg: exactly laser focus. Yeah, exactly. And in and in, and there's evidence, there's some evidence that personalized advertising performs no better than, than contextual targeting.

Which, and

Mike: Google still has localization as does apple access to significant amounts of localization information, regardless, both. So Google would have both contextual and local information, which is really another whole problem or

David: their own sites, but not an ad network, not ad

Greg: networks. True. Right. And I mean, the first party, you know, first parties would.

Would be, would, would have to make the case. You'd have to make the case for, for, for lo location. Right. So that that's already true on, I, I'm not an no longer an Android user, but that's already true in the iPhone. You have to opt into location sharing. Right. So, okay. Well, we'll see. We'll see. We'll see first, if.

What, what the final language is, and then whether it gets to a vote at all. So there's, there's sort of, I'm

David: about your optimism, Greg

Greg: that's as far as I can get well, so, you know, you gotta be optimistic about something, this, this, the world is such a dreary place these days, and it's just like, I don't want to give into complete pessimism.

So I'm, I'm, I'm hopeful, somewhat. It's qualified hope. All right. Great. Now, so another interesting development we've been, we've been talking for now, what feels like a couple of weeks, but it's only been about a week about the revelation, the revelation by Prak Roon, the SVP at Google who is basically run search and, and and their ad business that 40% of gen Z were not using Google for local search.

They were instead using TikTok and Instagram. And, you know, we wrote about that and talked about that in previous episodes. And now this week, Instagram updated its map and now has a sort of dynamic searchable map with I'll let you describe it in further detail. Sure. Well,

David: there's not really much to describe.

I would say it's just a, it's a, I would say a pretty significant upgrade on their. Map search experience, definitely. And that there are now filters that you can use and, you know, look for certain accounts, that sort of thing. I, I don't necessarily have any great insights from a pro pure product standpoint of, oh, this is really going be the killer feature and that sort of thing.

It's more directionally. I just thought it was a very interesting story for a couple of reasons. Number one. Mike's tin, foil hat comment, and plenty of others online on Twitter, including ran Fishkin saying, oh, you know, really interesting that Google sort of let this leak just as this big antitrust movement is about to come to a head and.

So the timing of this announcement and, and the release from Facebook is really interesting. It actually, in a way gives, does Google a little bit of a favor because they now have something concrete to point to, to say, look, Facebook has its own, you know, version of what we're doing. That's equally successful and it's bleeding users and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I actually see this as well. Two things. First of all, Facebook has been. I don't even know if you could even say trying things in local for a decade they sort of put things against the world. They sort of gave up, leave them there. Exactly. So I, I don't know that they've ever really had a concerted effort in local.

But that this, this now is a significant upgrade to an experience that they may either see. High usage of already within Instagram, which is interesting in and of itself. Or they may see that this is now an opportunity given the other dynamics in the market to actually attract some additional usage through this, this new sort of map search interface.

So that's number one is just that this, this feels like more of a natural fit than anything else they've tried, which has been sort of a bolt on

Greg: to. A

David: a complete separate product, right? Like marketplace is, is kind of the thing that sticks out to me is like, that's, that was sort of taking pieces of behavior that were happening in the newsfeed and, and creating a product from it here.

I think it's the reverse that they're seeing behavioral usage and sort of trying to go with the flow as opposed to divert the river in a different direction. So so that to me is kind of interesting. Number two. I think it's actually, again, just conceptually, not, not talking about specific features here or anything like that, but conceptually, this actually does feel like something that a non TikTok user, but also somebody who thinks the Google results are crap these days, or thinks Google's to pollute it or whatever they actually might use.

To me, this is something that is a, has a far wider potential demographic appeal than the to search experience. And generally the experience of sitting through. Multiple tens of seconds of video stuff, just to kind of get what you're, what you're interested in. I think Instagram still is a really browsable you know, visual interface and.

The, the sort of layering of the influencer level with photos with location, I think just makes a lot more sense on Instagram than it does on TikTok. So I think that there's, there's real potential here for, for this to actually become something. I think it actually might be more likely to bleed usage and, and users away from Yelp than it is Google.

I think that the overlap of audiences and sort. Online phone behavioral usage is probably more significant with Yelp's user base. But I think it could be one of the thousand Nicks that does start to bleed some usage away from, from Google and local.

Mike: Do you think that Facebook is excited about access to location information in any more.

focused way that would fulfill their advertising aspirations.

David: Sure. I mean, this is additional, this is search behavior, right? I mean, you could easily target someone that you knew lived in Portland and was looking at stuff in San Francisco to say, okay, you're a San Francisco hotel. This person is planning a trip somewhere.

There's some really interesting user data here that this might enable them to, to capture.

Greg: well, and, and it's worth pointing out that search advertising is immune to a lot of the privacy critiques that behavioral targeting has, has you know, suffered or confronted. You know, it's, it's, it is interesting cuz I spoke to somebody at Instagram before the pandemic and I don't know if that was 2019, it must have been 2019.

Who was saying, we're going do a lot of stuff. You know, we're seeing stuff in travel. We're going do a lot more and restaurants we're going do a lot more stuff in local. And then it sort of never materialized. And the way that they announced this was not, there was no press release. There was nothing on the blog.

There was no blog post. It was just a Zuckerberg screenshot with a piece of text on it. And you had to sign into Instagram to see. Which was really weird. And so it was just a very lowkey kind of almost like a, an aside or off the cuff thing. No, there was no real announcement or fan fear. And. You know, I mean, Facebook blew it when they didn't get ways in 2013 or whenever that was, you know, they, they were negotiating with ways and they were going spend a billion dollars on ways and then Google swooped down and stole it from them.

Or there was some snag with Facebook and go Google wound up getting ways, which they totally didn't need, even though they've integrated some of ways as features and they don't, and they still sort of don't know exactly how. Manage the two brands. I don't think that would've been a game changer for Facebook and we would've seen the company kind of go in a completely different direction.

Now I think that Facebook has gotten what it needs from small businesses in terms of ad revenue. So arguably after certain point of my prior belief was until they developed a really great local consumer product, they weren't going get the same ad revenue, but they have, they have managed to get a lot of the small business ad revenue in the.

Of a real consumer experience. So, you know, arguably they don't need it, but I think they may need some search advertising revenue these days, you know, ironically given the, given the loss of ad IDs and stuff like that. So we'll see. I, I, I think that for people who use Instagram it's a good. It's a good option.

It's an interesting option. I mean, I, I, I would never go to something like TikTok, but as I said in one of the posts you know, I talked to my 23 year old daughter and I said, do you do what? You know, what, how do you find information? And she, she just took me through it very quickly. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and, and showed me.

She gets a ton of information visually about a restaurant from TikTok. You know, there's, there's a certain level of authenticity there, quote unquote, and then you get a lot of information about the menu, about the interior. The experience that she says is very hard to get from Google directly. You know, even if you're reading reviews so reviews for certain category, people emerge as a really inefficient way to get information versus the visual.

Content that you would get from Instagram or, or, or TikTok, which I thought was really, but I think that's, that's where I think the

David: differentiator is here is that Instagram is lends itself to actually a much faster review of visual information than TikTok does. Now. I don't know, I'm not a TikTok advanced user.

Like, it sounds like your daughter is, but it just strikes me that Instagram is a, is a more natural search experience than TikTok. TikTok might be something where you go once you've identified two or three places that you're considering. Sort of

Greg: in the consideration. I, I agree with that. I agree with that's that you cover shared discovery phase as, as I would, right.

You cover more ground more quickly with, with Instagram than you do with, with TikTok, which is more clunky from my point of view, but for people who are really comfortable with it, maybe not, you know, it's a, it's a very different orientation, I think, than what we're, you know, we're, we're, we're old, relatively speaking.

And you know, we do through the things, the old fashioned way, right? Keyword in a box, look at the reviews. You. Look at the map. But I mean, you made, you made an interesting comment last week, I think about what would it be like if you designed a, a map, you know, from the ground up. Google maps is essentially a translation of a paper map in some, without knowing grand McNally.

Right? I mean, right. This, this is, this is closer to that. This is, this is not maybe that exact thing, but it's closer to that. And it's interesting. And so we'll have to see, I mean, we'll have to, I don't know how we'll get data. You know, there's no data forthcoming about adoption and, and, and usage of these things.

It's just, Google's own surveys, presumably that they're relying upon, you know, Hey, what do you use for local search? And they're probably getting, you know, they do survey after survey, after survey, and they're probably getting responses that say, I use TikTok, I use Instagram. And so they're extrapolating from that.

So we'll have to do our own research, I think.

Mike: Sounds good. And Owen, and thank you for, including me in the relative. Aging group, not the absolute aging group.

Greg: Well, all age is relative. right. but anyway. All right. And we we're nearing the conclusion of our digital agency survey. We've got a lot of good responses.

We're still looking for a few more. If you haven't taken that survey, we'll do one more push. With the link, please do take it. It's going be a lot of valuable information for us and for, for you, because it'll allow for a certain level of benchmarking that I think there's going be some really interesting findings there.

So please, please take that and please remember to subscribe to the near media if you don't already. And that concludes my remarks for this week. If you would like to add anything, all good, have a great weekend. All right. See you next week.