News You Can Use: Google rebrands ad services, SCOTUS upholds online sales tax

Hello, and welcome back to the latest edition of News You Can Use, where we break down the most important business, marketing, and tech industry news.

Following the news is important no matter what industry you’re in — by staying on top of the news, you’ll be well-positioned to capitalize on emerging trends, and to navigate any twists and turns that occur in the market.

So with that in mind, let’s get to the news.

1) Google rebrands ad service, ditching AdWords and DoubleClick (Reuters)

Google has announced the biggest-ever rebranding of its advertising services, with the company planning to retire its AdWords and DoubleClick platforms.

Both services will be streamlined and combined into a single platform, dubbed Google Ads. The company also plans to roll out the analytics suite Google Marketing Platform, which will eventually replace Google Analytics.

Though Google vows that their core advertising functions will not be changed — including pricing — many advertising professionals and commentators have expressed dismay. For these critics, this is the latest example of Google unilaterally imposing changes with little to no advanced warning to their userbase.

Brian Wieser, a senior financial analyst for advertising at Pivotal Research, told Reuters that Google’s policies generate “a lot of confusion,” even for those familiar with the industry: “It doesn’t help that Google leaves us guessing on the relative size and trajectory of what are strategically important businesses.”

It’s still unclear how exactly this merger will play out, but PPC specialists and digital marketers will need to pay special attention to further developments from Google — even the smallest change will have huge repercussions for your industry.

2) SCOTUS rules cell location data protected by Fourth Amendment (NY Times)

In a landmark verdict with major implications for personal privacy and the wider tech industry, the US Supreme Court has ruled that cellphone location data is protected under the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable search and seizures.”

With this ruling, law enforcement will be now required to seek a warrant in order to access suspect’s cellphone location data. “We decline to grant the state unrestricted access to a wireless carrier’s database of physical location information,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the majority ruling.

This ruling opens the door for a raft of future legal battles around whether cellphone location data can be used outside of law enforcement.

In our ever-connected and increasingly mobile-centric world, geolocation info has become an increasingly valuable source of marketing data. It follows that restrictions on the use or transmission of that location data will have a serious impact on the reach and effectiveness of mobile advertising.

3) DOJ & FBI  widen probe into Facebook data breach (Washington Post)

US watchdogs have announced in a report that they are widening the federal probe on the Facebook data breach linked to Cambridge Analytica. The investigation will now span multiple government agencies beyond the Department of Justice, including the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The probe is expanding in order to determine whether Facebook has been truthful about the underlying facts of the investigation into the data breach, and whether the company’s disclosures to both the public and its investors were sufficiently timely and forthright.

This news is the latest sign that the scrutiny the company is facing over its handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal won’t be letting up any time soon.

As a result, Facebook’s stock remains volatile: Share values plunged several percentage points following the news, coming just a day after the company’s sunny Q2 earnings report spurred a 1.5-percent increase.

Many details about the probe are still unknown, such as whether criminal charges or civil penalties are being considered. Even so, the involvement of the FTC means that Facebook could potentially be facing serious legal repercussions and fines ranging in the billions.

Digital marketers will want to keep a close eye on this story, because the outcome of this probe into user privacy could seriously damage Facebook’s viability as an advertising platform.

4) US Supreme Court says states can force retailers to collect sales tax (USA Today)

In a decision that overturns a previous verdict, the US Supreme Court has ruled that states can collect sales tax from online retailers. Digital marketplaces and e-commerce vendors of every kind will now be required to charge sales tax according to the state in which an online purchase was made.

“The Internet’s prevalence and power have changed the dynamics of the national economy,” outgoing Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the ruling for the 5-4 decision. “This expansion has also increased the revenue shortfall faced by states seeking to collect their sales and use taxes.”

That said, the majority of major online retailers already collect sales tax in the US — either because they’ve opened physical locations or warehouses in a specific state, or because of state laws mandating the collection of sales tax.

E-commerce businesses should brace for a small downtick in revenue as this ruling goes into effect, though it’s expected that the verdict will be heavily contested.

5) Uber agrees to probation to win back London license (BBC)

After months of tense legal back-and-forth, Uber finally won its appeal to have its operating license reinstated in London.

The city’s top transit authority had previously ruled that Uber was unfit to operate as a taxi company in the city, owing to the firm’s largely deregulated and hands-off approach to managing its ride-hailing service. Uber has now been granted a short-term, 15-month probationary license to operate in London, provided the firm pays out legal costs of around US $550,000.

This is the latest high-profile tech case to appear before a UK court, and industry watchers will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief, as many expected a harsh and punitive ruling. It raises hopes that regulators and watchdogs will be similarly lenient in dealing with Facebook’s recent privacy scandals, as well as the mounting tensions between the US and EU over how sensitive personal data can be used.