Media in a post-GDPR world - hint: the zombies still walk the earth

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett May 26, 2018
There have been some strange responses to GDPR. What's next? Quite a few options but the adtech-driven zombie economy will be an early casualty.

GDPR compliance notes dated 25 May 2018 with office tools © Stanislau_V -
It's GDPR+1 day, and now we see the media fallout as publishers modify their bets in the wake of privacy by design.

Today is an excellent day for titles like ours because from day one we said we would never carry any advertising. The only reason we collect information via our email sign up system is to help us deliver better content the way readers want to consume that content. The same goes for those titles that chose the paywall/subscription path. They have a mutuality of purpose aligned with readers' desires, so no GDPR issues for them.

Welcome to a land of confusion

Not everyone in the media world got the memo and many have blithely continued following the zombie economy that is the adtech-led business model. That despite having more than two years to think about how GDPR might impact them. I have to ask: how stupid is it to continue to pursue an adtech-driven model except in local and niche areas? Let's be clear. Facebook and Google have pretty much eaten every media title's lunch, and the adtech vendors, who rely on 'recommendations' based on data they've collected about you just took a massive dump.

Before I go further on this hobby horse topic, GDPR has been a source of confusion. We've had our demons to address, but in the wider world, I've seen all manner of craziness as businesses panic to ensure they don't fall foul of the regulations.

Last evening, for example, a supplier of mine of over ten years said I needed to accept their terms of use, etc. because their administrative guru has warned of €600 fines. Plenty of organizations with which I have ongoing relationships have done similar, despite past assurances that my data is held privately.

Then there are those who are wary of the validity of their double opt-in procedures, even when those are combined with privacy policies of the kind GDPR prefers. Like others, I've taken this opportunity to clean my email house and ignored the persistent 'please confirm' emails from services I've long forgotten or which I have consigned to spam. But back to the main thrust.

Some strange responses to GDPR

The BBC has an astonishing story titled: GDPR: US news sites unavailable to EU users under new rules. Imagine my surprise to discover that New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, LA Times, Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun are unavailable in most EU countries. You might not consider those much of a loss, but my reality is different. I've always taken the view that understanding local issues requires local reporting nuanced by on-the-ground people who are knowledgeable. And what about the ex-pat who wants to keep in touch with hometown affairs?

Nieman Labs has a similarly titled story: Welcome to GDPR: Here are the data privacy notices publishers are showing their Europe-based readers. Some titles appear to have taken odd decisions:

Connecticut’s NewsTimes asked visitors to choose which services their information is shared with, from Taboola to Chartbeat — but apparently, their GDPR explanation was inaccessible to EU browsers.

Duh? This example is tragic:

Double duh?

The Washington Post has taken the course of shutting out EU readers unless they're willing to pay an additional $30 a year for an ad-free version.


I subscribe to WashPo and haven't received any notification about this. And I am firmly rooted in the EU.

USA Today has got it right in my view and in that of this person:

But I was royally pi$$ed off with Instapaper.

instapaper gdpr

I love this service for clipping stories I want to read later yet it has unilaterally closed down its service to EU users. The company says it is working on a solution, but I'm perplexed as to why they felt there is an issue. I subscribe, I use the service I know the terms, I'm OK with what they do. What's the beef?

Whatever it is, I can still get access, so maybe they've forgotten to switch me off or didn't bother to tell me we're all good again.

Regardless, this ham-fisted and vague approach suggests to me that Instapaper hasn't been getting the development love of its owners, the ever-fragrant (not) Pinterest, yet another moshpit of ad-driven gunk.

My take

The coming days and weeks will see plenty of flip-flopping, more GDPR emails for your inbox and a continuation of sometimes confusing interpretation. Some will point the finger at the regulation, but I beg to differ. We've all had plenty of time to clean house, and while the last month or so has been - err - stressful, there's no reason to fear GDPR. Smart organizations are rightly seeing it as an opportunity.

We will see a growing number of media titles moving to subscription models, some with great success, others not so much. Successful subscription models need to meet a specific set of criteria, and not all media titles will be prepared for what that entails.

Other models may emerge. We have our own with which we're all very comfortable because it drives us to suck less every day.

The ongoing call of enterprise software vendors to adopt GDPR style practices will, over time, force all media to get with the program or die. Despite a call to industry-wide discussions, de facto standards will emerge, and we will all be the better for them.