Alex Kantrowitz, Buzzfeed:
The brand safety episode illustrates just how hard it is to stop the Google and Facebook freight train. Google and Facebook attained duopoly power specifically because of a super-compelling value proposition: Both platforms stand out by providing advertisers access to enormous amounts of people, and enabling them to slice and dice audiences with unparalleled precision and accuracy. Spending money with them can be formulaic for advertisers: X dollars in gets Y dollars out. Nothing else online even comes close. “There was a lot of saber rattling, a lot of alternatives, alternatives, alternatives,” Racic said. “In the digital realm, there is no other alternative.”
Google and Facebook have truly set themselves up to be indispensable. Many of our favourite websites are directly tied to the success of Google and Facebook; their success is, in turn, related to how many ads they can sell, which is — in part — dependent on how accurately-targeted their advertising products are. And that, of course, is driven by how much we use their ostensibly free services. Nobody else has a network of data generation and ad distribution comparable to either Facebook or Google.
It doesn’t have to be like this, of course. There are alternatives — direct ad sales, “native” advertising, and affiliate shopping links, for example — but those solutions tend to work a lot better for bigger publishers than smaller ones. There are smaller ad networks that handle the difficult business of selling and maintaining ad inventory, but they come with some of the same problems as any network of advertising not controlled by the publisher: the majority of sidebar ads here, for example, are for products and services I don’t use; a few might be for things I’d actively recommend against. But that’s the nature of advertising aimed at generalized readership demographics rather than specific targeting. So far, though, the trend is towards more targeting and more data collection — an ongoing amplification of the power held by Google and Facebook.