The platforms taketh away – but sometimes regulators can giveth back.
Google is seriously flirting with the idea of reopening YouTube inventory to third-party ad tech platforms in a bid to appease European regulators and avoid a potential $18 billion fine.
Criteo’s complaint, which was lodged with the Autorité de la concurrence, France’s national competition regulator, alleged that Facebook was unfairly favoring its own services by restricting access to its platform at the expense of competitors, including making it more difficult for Criteo to acquire inventory.
FMPs (now called Meta Business Partners) get more visibility with advertisers, access to technical support from Meta and access to exclusive partner-specific tools, APIs and beta releases for new Facebook and Instagram features.
Losing its FMP badge meant Criteo could no longer tap into Meta’s “user-level bidding” API, which allowed Criteo to use its own bidding and product recommendation tech to optimize retargeting offers within Meta’s ad ecosystem.
According to a statement from the French Competition Authority, “the “conditions of this loss of access raised concerns about the transparency, objectivity and non-discriminatory nature of the criteria for accessing Meta’s APIs.”
Over the years, some have characterized the process of becoming an official Facebook Marketing Partner as enigmatic at best and purposely confusing at worst.
Several years ago, one former mobile marketing executive, who spoke with AdExchanger but asked to remain anonymous, described the experience of trying to join Facebook’s Mobile Measurement Partner program as inscrutable and not unlike standing before a Roman emperor with the power to decide your fate with a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down.
The French Competition Authority’s investigation revealed what it called “various difficulties in the relationship between Facebook and the FMPs,” including different (and therefore unfair) treatment company by company.
French regulators also found that starting in late 2017, less than a year before Criteo lost its FMP badge, Facebook’s sales teams “engaged in conduct … that could constitute disparaging practices against Criteo,” which contributed to Criteo’s inability to reenter the FMP program.
In the Autorité’s view, these behaviors, such as yanking access to Meta’s user-level bidding API, had the potential to both distort competition between online advertising service providers seeking to place ads on Meta’s inventory and strengthen Meta’s market power by weakening the competitive pressure from companies such as Criteo.
Before agreeing to a final set of commitments to settle the investigation, Facebook shared a set of proposed commitments roughly a year ago with the French competition folks, which Criteo was given a chance to review.
It took until now to finalize the commitments, which apply globally. Facebook has agreed to uphold them for a period of three years.
Specifically, Facebook will immediately restore Criteo’s partner status in the Meta Business Partner program, set out and publicize clear criteria for how companies in general can join the program and develop a new free API for advertising service providers called the “referral functionality” API.
This referral API will allow eligible companies, including Criteo, to make personalized product recommendations and bid adjustments using their own technology and data across Facebook and Instagram. Any advertising service providers in France that have purchased Facebook inventory targeted at French users over the past 180 days are eligible. The commitments also apply to any companies that were terminated from the FMP program and those that lost access to the user-level bidding API.
Companies that don’t meet that bar can still take advantage – and get access to Meta’s MBP program – as long as they also tick other boxes, including meeting a minimum annual purchase requirement.
Criteo’s win combined with reports that Google might reopen YouTube to third-party buying and selling platforms makes for a noteworthy potential trend.
The EU initiated an investigation last year over Google allegedly advantaging its own ad tech, in particular its requirement that buyers and sellers use DV360 and/or Google Ad Manager to serve display ads on YouTube. Google made the move to block third-party DSPs and SSPs from YouTube in 2015.
Reuters reported this week that Google might relent as part of a compromise with the European Commission.
If Google does allow third parties to buy inventory on YouTube again, it would likely be a global change – and Google has made global commitments to regulators before.
For example, Google has promised to do a global rollout of the commitments it made to the UK’s Competition and Market Authority earlier this year to address anticompetition concerns related to the Chrome Privacy Sandbox.