When the FTC announced earlier this month that it was closing its investigation of Google without bringing any charges, it was a great victory for the search giant. Though Google’s competitors have claimed that the company favors its own products in its search results, the FTC found that Google was simply trying to make its search results better and that “any negative impact on actual or perceived competitors was incidental to that purpose.” Google, in other words, might have negatively impacted some of its competitors by releasing new products, but it was only doing what was best for consumers. The FTC, of course, was only focused on Google, and specifically on whether Google’s practices are anti-competitive. But in its solid endorsement of the way Google conducts its business, the FTC implicitly endorsed countless other online companies that, at the most fundamental level, are trying to do the same thing Google does leverage as much data as possible to make their products and services better.
For those of us in the ad tech world, the FTC’s decision was a breath of fresh air. Why? Because for all the legitimate concerns that are raised about data collection and privacy, the most cutting edge ad tech firms are ultimately just trying to use massive amounts of data to make advertising work better for brands and consumers alike.
Take the example of ad exchanges with real-time bidding. These exchanges are so successful for one simple reason: they serve ads that are more relevant to the consumer and, as a result, make for a much better user experience — at least, that is, so long as the vendor knows what it’s doing and doesn’t show the user the same creative over and over. Yes, a lot of data is collected, but ad tech firms are no more interested in robbing users of their anonymity than Google is interested in destroying its competitors.
So, yes, data has to be used very responsibly. But the FTC decision is an important reminder that when we use data to target users more precisely, be it with search results or online ads, the consumer ultimately comes out ahead.