Tech and Telcos: The Quiet War

Part Three in a Four-Part Series

Any profitable company does whatever it takes to stay that way, if it knows what it’s doing, and among technology companies Google is surely the best-equipped to protect its treasure. Highly motivated and heavily armed, the search engine colossus keeps an eagle eye on the telcos, watching every move the carriers make to guard their own fortunes against the likes of Google. In this third in a four-part series, we’ll visit the major fronts in this quiet war between Google and the operators: HTTPS, advertising, and content distribution.

The Big Guns

For more than two years Google has been urging publishers everywhere on the web to replace the long-standard HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) with HTTPS (s for secure). Already familiar to anyone who shops, banks, or pays bills online, HTTPS is encrypted to prevent “snoops and middle-men attackers from eavesdropping on, stealing, or manipulating data.” To make its commitment to HTTPS crystal clear, Google calls the new protocol “the future of the web.

To hurry that future along, Google now requires HTTPS for “many cutting-edge features” in website design, including web push notifications. Web developers planning to create progressive web apps or adding new web platform features to their sites will be forced to adopt HTTPS. Even Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages must be served over HTTPS. (More on AMP later.) Users with no desire to move to HTTPS may have no other choice.

Since January 2017 Google Chrome has been flagging HTTP sites that collect passwords and credit card numbers as “non secure.” (Apple’s Safari browser now identifies non-HTTPS sites as well.) Eventually all HTTP sites will bear that harsh warning, which might be enough to muscle many publishers into line. After all, “the last thing any of us wants is a warning from Google,” one blogger writes; that could be “very bad for business.”

To truly enforce its mandate, however, Google has drawn its big guns: a promise to reward adopters with higher search rankings, and a threat to punish laggards with lower rankings. Thanks to this tactic, HTTPS sites account for more than 30 percent of page-one search results, to Google’s great benefit. Without such cooperation the company would have to implement a “major, algorithmic HTTPS boost,” a “risky” update that could cause “collateral damage,” Moz marketing scientist Dr. Peter J. Meyers claims. “Convincing us that change is for our own good is risk-free for Google.”

Advertising and a Secret Weapon

Google’s HTTPS initiative leads straight to the advertising front, where carriers have been stealthily tunneling into the core of its business. New ad-blocking technology empowers carriers to knock ads that Google and Internet publishers depend on right off their mobile networks. Digicel, one of the first carriers to explore network ad blocking, complains that Google and its peers “unashamedly trade off the efforts and investments of network operators to make money for themselves.”

Even more boldly, telcos are setting their sights on advertising too, planning to mine depths of priceless user data to create super-targeted messages, and wielding another weapon that tech once had all to itself: content. Verizon, for instance, acquired an arsenal of content when it acquired AOL. (It’s pursuing Yahoo now.) Ads placed next to strong editorial content deliver superior ROI, easily outshining placements on social media and search, according to a new study from Nielsen and mobile advertising company Kargo. “Editorial is unique because it allows the consumer to engage in a singular connected experience between the actual content and the advertising experience in a way the other environments do not,” Kargo CMO Ed Romaine explains.

Right Reader, Right Place, Right Time

As the importance of content grows, so does the need to get ads to the right reader in the right place at the right time. Publishers have their own secret weapon for maximizing the average revenue generated per user—that’s ARPU, the golden metric. Partnering with an ad tech provider simplifies ad revenue management and strategic decision-making for publishers, supported by sophisticated analytics that track ad revenues from multiple sites and offer complete insight into sources of user engagement.

For its part, tech has launched a trio of mobile news platforms to speed up page loads and keep impatient consumers engaged. Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, and Apple News serve content and ads, enhancing the user experience and driving traffic for publishers. Google has won praise for improving content delivery for everyone, even as it tallies up another corporate triumph—a new route to advertising revenues, and a creative way to dodge the ad blockers.

More battles will erupt as this quiet war gathers force. Every clever strategy will be countered by a strong maneuver across the barricades. Only time will tell what the mobile landscape will look like after the war is over.

Next time: The Future – Attack and Defense

Read the Series: Part One | Part Two

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