Hexbyte  Hacker News  Computers After GDPR, The New York Times cut off ad exchanges in Europe – and kept growing ad revenue – Digiday

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers After GDPR, The New York Times cut off ad exchanges in Europe – and kept growing ad revenue – Digiday

Hexbyte Hacker News Computers

When the General Data Protection Regulation arrived last year, The New York Times didn’t take any chances.

The publisher blocked all open-exchange ad buying on its European pages, followed swiftly by behavioral targeting. Instead, NYT International focused on contextual and geographical targeting for programmatic guaranteed and private marketplace deals and has not seen ad revenues drop as a result, according to Jean-Christophe Demarta, svp for global advertising at New York Times International.

Currently, all the ads running on European pages are direct-sold. Although the publisher doesn’t break out exact revenues for Europe, Demarta said that digital advertising revenue has increased significantly since last May and that has continued into early 2019.

“The fact that we are no longer offering behavioral targeting options in Europe does not seem to be in the way of what advertisers want to do with us,” he said. “The desirability of a brand may be stronger than the targeting capabilities. We have not been impacted from a revenue standpoint, and, on the contrary, our digital advertising business continues to grow nicely.”

The NYT briefly tested reintroducing open-exchange programmatic ad buying last fall but didn’t pursue it. “When we weighed all considerations, it was decided not to continue with it,” added Demarta.

The last-minute scramble to prepare for GDPR’s arrival last May, led to some U.S. publishers taking a more extreme approach and either blocking pages entirely in Europe or pulling advertising altogether. USA Today pulled all advertising in Europe — a strategy it still sticks to. In total, more than 1,000 U.S. websites blocked access in Europe last May — an extreme but understandable response given the eye-watering GDPR penalties that can be levied should they get it wrong. Los Angeles Times has started making some of its content available in certain countries like the U.K. and France, though still carries a notice on its site warning that it is unavailable in most European countries.

That more extreme approach may fly for U.S. publishers whose European revenue and traffic is negligible compared to the overall business. However, for publishers with meaningful revenue coming from Europe, that approach is unsustainable.

The New York Times has 2.9 million paying digital subscribers globally, and 15 percent of the publisher’s digital news subscribers are from Europe. Digital advertising in Europe also remains an important revenue stream for the publisher. The publisher’s reader-revenue business model means it fiercely guards its readers’ user experience. Rather than bombard readers with consent notices or risk a clunky consent user experience, it decided to drop behavioral advertising entirely.

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Business Insider also didn’t want to cut off a healthy European ad revenue stream. The publisher still runs personalized ads in Europe but only to those who have given consent for their data to be used for such purposes. Opt-in rates are high, so ad revenues haven’t been affected, according to Marc Boswell, global svp of revenue, operations and client services at Business Insider.

BI’s European ad revenue accounts for approximately 10 percent of its total ad revenue, a large enough slice to ensure blocking advertising was never an option, added Boswell. The publisher started preparing for GDPR in January 2018, and used Axel Springer’s open-source CMP from the start.

Those who have developed a more sophisticated approach to GDPR, rather than a more blunt tactic of blocking all visitors from Europe, will be in a stronger a position for the arrival of pending U.S privacy laws, such as the California Consumer Privacy Act, experts believe. “GDPR is just the beginning,” said Brian Kane, chief operations officer and co-founder of Sourcepoint. “Whether it is CCPA or other state-based regulation in the U.S. or [data privacy] trends in other countries like Canada and Japan, publishers will be prompted to lean in. They can no longer afford to view it as ‘well, it’s only a small percentage of my traffic being affected’ — publishers will have to do something.”

The scramble that led to the arrival of GDPR last May isn’t likely to be repeated when it comes to preparing for the U.S. laws, according to industry executives. The CCPA doesn’t kick in until 2020, but three U.S. media conglomerates are already actively seeking consent-management platform partners, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. CMPs store the information on which users have given consent to be tracked and served personalized ads, and pass that information back to all the publisher’s programmatic advertising partners.

“We’re seeing renewed interest from large U.S. publishers in revising their consent strategies,” said Kane. “Similar to what we saw in the U.K., there are many publishers who had a ‘day one’ solution for GDPR and are now wanting to run more robust processes for the long term, both for GDPR as well as the U.S. privacy laws.”

So far, the U.K. regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, has favored the carrot to the stick, particularly when it comes to leveraging its jurisdiction with U.S. publishers. The Washington Post went its own route and developed a paid subscription offer for those who don’t want to give consent to be tracked. The publisher received a mild wrist slap from the ICO in the form of a warning letter, but the regulator isn’t likely to enforce the matter.

“If you’d asked me a year and a half ago if I was concerned about the California privacy law, I’d have said yes, very,” said Boswell. “But since we have gone through GDPR, that’s no longer the case. There are minor differences between the policies, but we will likely apply a modified version of the same framework.”

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How The New York Times Uses Software To Recognize Members of Congress

How The New York Times Uses Software To Recognize Members of Congress

Even if you’ve covered Congress for The New York Times for a decade, it can be hard to recognize which member you’ve just spoken with. There are 535 members, and with special elections every few months, members cycle in and out relatively frequently. So when former Congressional Correspondent Jennifer Steinhauer tweeted “Shazam, but for House members faces” in early 2017, The Times’s Interactive News team jumped on the idea.

Our first thought was: Nope, it’s too hard! Computer vision and face recognition are legitimately difficult computer science problems. Even a prototype would involve training a model on the faces of every member of Congress, and just getting the photographs to train with would be an undertaking.

But we did some Googling and found the Amazon Rekognition API. This service has a “RecognizeCelebrity” endpoint that happens to include every member of Congress as well as several members of the Executive branch. Problem solved! Now we’re just talking about knitting together a few APIs.

As we began working on this application, we understood that there are numerous, valid privacy concerns about using face recognition technology. And Interactive News, a programming team embedded in the newsroom, abides by all aspects of The Times’s ethical journalism handbook including how we gather information about the people we cover. In this case, we decided that the use of Rekognition’s celebrity endpoint meant we would only recognize congress people and other “celebrities” in Rekognition’s database.

By the end of the summer, Interactive News interns Gautam Hathi and Sherman Hewitt had built a prototype based on some conversations with me and my colleague Rachel Shorey. To use the prototype, a congressional reporter could snap a picture of a congress member, text it to a our app, and get back an annotated version of the photograph identifying any members and giving a confidence score.

However, we discovered a new round of difficulties. Rekognition incorrectly identified some members of Congress as similar-looking celebrities — like one particularly funny instance where it confused Bill Nelson with Bill Paxton. Additionally, our hit rate on photographs was very low because the halls of the Capitol are poorly lit and the photographs we took for testing were consistently marred by shadow and blur. Bad connectivity in the basement of the Capitol made sending and receiving an MMS slow and error-prone during our testing. And, of course, there were few places in the Capitol where we could really get the photographs we needed without committing a foul.

Gautam and Sherman got around the “wrong celebrity” problem with a novel approach: A hardcoded list of Congresspeople and their celebrity doppelgangers. We grew more confident taking photographs and only sent the ones where members were better lit.

A text-based interface is easiest for reporters to use, so while texting is slow, it’s superior to a web service in the low-bandwidth environment of the Capitol.

In addition to confirming the identity of a member, Who The Hill has helped The Times tell some stories we couldn’t have reported otherwise. Most recently, Rachel Shorey found members of Congress at an event hosted by a SuperPAC by trawling through images found on social media and finding matches.

If you’re interested in running your own version, the code for Who The Hill is open sourced under the Apache 2.0 license. The latest version includes a command-line interface in case you’d like to use the power of Amazon’s Rekognition to dig through a collection of photographs on your local machine without sending a pile of MMS messages.

Our service is far from infallible. But Times reporters like Thomas Kaplan love having a backup for when they can’t get a moment with a member to confirm their identity. “Of course,” says Kaplan, “the most reliable way to figure out a member’s identity is the old-fashioned way: Just ask them.”

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