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Keep It Confidential; Taking License

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BetterWatch Out

The Federal Trade Commission has no patience for companies that misuse sensitive data.

The agency issued a proposed order last week against online therapy service BetterHelp, which allegedly shared consumer health data with Facebook and others for targeted advertising, including prescription and mental health information.

BetterHelp’s actions were somewhat sinister. According to the FTC’s complaint, the company explicitly promised consumers it was using their data for counseling purposes only. Turns out, it was using the data to target and retarget consumers with ads online.

BetterHelp placated patients with statements, such as “Rest assured – any information provided in this questionnaire will stay private between you and your counselor.” (A more truthful statement would have been “Rest assured – we plan to share your information with Facebook, Snapchat and Criteo.”)

The FTC’s proposed action would mark the first time the agency is ordering a company to refund consumers whose data was leaked – in this case, $7.8 million. And, like GoodRx, BetterHelp will be banned from sharing health data with third parties for targeted advertising.

Consider this order a “stout reminder that the FTC will defend Americans’ sensitive data from illegal exploitation,” said Samuel Levine, director of the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

License To Steal

The rise of AI-powered search chatbots is yet another existential crisis for publishers. But some media companies and trade organizations, including the News/Media Alliance and Digital Content Next, are weighing their options for fighting back, Insider reports.

Publishers fear that, if a chatbot can produce in-depth, article-length responses to user inquiries within search results, then search engines will funnel less traffic to publisher sites. (Microsoft’s Bing bot currently includes links to publisher pages in its responses, but Google’s Bard doesn’t.)

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And since Google’s and Microsoft’s chatbots are trained using content written by real journalists, publishers are looking for compensation. The preferred option would be to enter licensing agreements with tech companies, like how Shutterstock plans to pay artists whose work trains its AI.

But media companies aren’t ruling out litigation, and there are already cases to point to, including Getty’s lawsuit against Stability AI and Thaler vs. Perlmutter. In the latter case, the US Copyright Office argued that media must be created by a human to be protected under the law.

Regardless of the outcomes, waiting for the courts to decide could take years.

In the meantime, some publishers are even considering pulling their content from search engines while emphasizing their own distribution channels, like email newsletters and push alerts.

You, Me and IP

Agencies are investing more in intellectual property (IP) – in part because they’re not benefiting enough from the ideas they’re creating for clients, Ad Age reports. They also want to be less reliant on client revenue.

Agencies spend years nurturing client relationships only to see them disappear overnight due to high CMO turnover, creative in-housing and brands being reluctant to lock themselves into long-term contracts. Having their own IP acts as a buffer for agencies against the vagaries of layoffs and recessions and client whims.

Agencies are getting rather creative with their IP, from compression socks to children’s books, podcasts and short films to programs and services they market to other companies.

Agencies are even investing in other companies and trading capital and services for business equity through partnerships.

Of course, every rose has its thorn. Although IP investments can be moneymakers, they require plenty of resources, and agencies can quickly find themselves in over their heads. Also, IP is a highly specialized trade, and wrangling external experts or developing in-house IP pros is a project in and of itself.

Still, everyone’s gotta diversify their revenue streams these days.

But Wait, There’s More!

Who’s actually getting rich off of AI? [The Verge] Maybe these folks? [WorkLife]

Geniee, part of SoftBank, has acquired Zelto (formerly known as AdPushup) for $70 million. [TechCrunch]

Mike Shields: Get ready for the messiest TV upfront ever. [Substack]

Disney’s Hulu deal ain’t over till it’s over. [The Information]

Serving digital ads to real humans is not just good for advertisers; it’s also good for the planet. [Adweek]

You’re Hired!

Performance marketing platform Wunderkind appoints Bill Ingram as CEO. [MarTech Series]

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