Future

Facebook v. Google - A New Edge In All-Out War For Digital Advertising

Zuck-san
Zuck-san
Owen Thomas

Facebook is the upstart, Google is the grizzled veteran -- and still the powerhouse -- in the massive battle for online advertising dollars.

But when the cash register rings, who gets the credit? That is the billion-dollar question in advertising these days—particularly in Internet advertising, where it's easy to track clicks and links, but often hard to pin down exactly which view of an ad drove a sale.

Now Facebook is making it easier to show that an ad displayed on the social network led to a sale—even an ad seen days or weeks ago.

The technology is called conversion tracking, and after years of testing the idea, Facebook quietly rolled it out to all advertisers in a little-noted move last week.

The idea is pretty simple: Facebook creates a customized conversion pixel that advertisers place on a page—like a checkout page on an e-commerce site, or a signup page for a subscription, or an app-download page—where a consumer's taking the action they hoped their ads would prompt.

That lets Facebook link sales to ad campaigns, showing in aggregate which ads generated the most response.

Google has long had similar features, along with Google Analytics, a dashboard for doing deep analysis of users' actions on a website.

But Facebook has rolled out something far more powerful that can consistently track users across mobile devices and desktop websites.

It can do this because it has a single, unified identity for each of its users, who tend to stay logged in to Facebook far more than any other website.

Google has responded by rolling out Google+. Often misunderstood as a social network, Google+ has been described by executive chairman Eric Schmidt and other executives as an "identity layer" across Google products. Its social features provide an incentive for users to log in with Google accounts. But they have yet to do so with anything like the consistency and frequency that Facebook users do.

Facebook experimented with conversion tracking in 2010, abandoning it and then rolling it back as a service restricted to its biggest advertisers. More recently, it has been combining a limited test of conversion tracking with a feature called Optimized CPM, which automatically tunes campaigns to specific marketing goals like product sales or app downloads, rather than crude link-clicking metrics.

Those tests seem to be successful: On Tuesday, Facebook quietly announced that the feature was available to all advertisers around the world.

Why does this matter? Google has dominated online advertising for a host of reasons, but the chief one is the measurability of its ads. When a user clicks on a link, that sparks a storm of data used by Google and its advertisers alike to tweak their next campaign. Search-engine marketing is now a science rather than an art.

And because it is so easy for Google to show a direct link between a click and a sale, it has commanded the lion's share of online-marketing budgets, especially in direct-response categories.

But any student of marketing knows that the demand funnel is long and complex, with multiple exposures to a message required to prompt a sale.

Google dominates the end of the funnel, catching consumers when they are in a mood to buy (as they typically are when they type product-related keywords into a search box).

Facebook, because of its ubiquity in people's daily habits, can play in the middle of the funnel, offering the kind of frequency marketers need to break through to ad-inundated consumers.

And now Facebook can show how those ads lead to purchases—even if they don't happen in the moment a consumer clicks.

Facebook still can't compete with Google at the end of the demand funnel. Its recently announced Graph Search is unsuitable for almost all product queries in its present form, save maybe for categories like movies and music.

But if conversion data can shift some spending away from Google—or, more likely, from the billions of dollars of offline, unmeasured advertising spending that both Facebook and Google hope to capture—then Facebook stands to gain.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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