The battle for advertisements is on, as AT&T and Verizon appear to want to create their own massive ad-tracking networks that hope to rival Facebook’s special algorithm. If successful, this puts Verizon and AT&T on the forefront of making ad-tracking a much more widespread phenomenon that even big brands and conglomerates can tap into. This also makes Verizon and AT&T capable of tracking almost everything that happens on the phones of their users.
The issue rose with a talk at May’s Code Conference where AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson talked about the antitrust lawsuit that blocked AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner.
When asked of his intentions with the purchase, Stephenson explained AT&T already has an incredible amount of data in its possession – including 40-million paying subscribers, 130-million mobile subscribers, and 16-million internet subscribers on both South and North America. This huge amount of data already allows them to get a lot of insights towards the media and shows their viewers are checking, alongside various consumer information. Pair that up with Time Warner’s ad inventory, and Stephenson believes it’s actually possible to make something unique – to the point of making different offerings when it comes to monetizing content.
The long and short of it is that AT&T’s goals is to use consumer data it collects and tracks to make sure ads are properly placed against Time Warner’s content.
Of course, this is obviously upsetting from a privacy point of view, but it’s a common strategy for carriers of major services. For instance, Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo! and AOL came with an intention to create Oath, with the goal of making sure Verizon’s network data can make better use of targeted ads on millions of content on Oath’s pages.
Tim Armstrong, Oath CEO, has spent years purchasing mid-level companies specializing in ad-tech to make sure “super cookies” are inserted in its network so it can track every site its user visits. While Verizon might be too far off in this path, AT&T might be heading in this direction as well.
The move appears to make sense from a business standpoint, given Facebook and Google already account for nearly 100-percent of spending towards digital advertising. It’s completely alarming from a privacy standpoint, however, as this might mean there’s really no way to access the internet without being tracked. Of course, with the arrival of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) policies may still pave way to a safeguard that can protect user rights, given companies will now have to explicitly state what user data will be used for, and users have the option to ask companies to actually delete their data from their servers.
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