News You Can Use: Twitter crackdown, eSports rising, Net Neutrality on the ropes

Hello, and welcome back to your favorite recurring segment on the CallRail blog: News You Can Use. We break down the most important headlines, and offer some tech news analysis about how these stories could affect the economic landscape.

Because staying on top of the latest news isn’t just good civics — it’s also great for business.

1) Twitter bans millions in ongoing crackdown on “problem” accounts (The Guardian)

Twitter has launched a widespread crackdown on ‘problematic’ users, banning millions of allegedly malicious or bot-controlled accounts. The company is in the process of removing these bad accounts from their servers, and said that users should expect to see their follower counts decline in the coming weeks to reflect these changes.

Twitter has come under fire in recent months for how bad actors have exploited vulnerabilities in the platform to spread misinformation and organize harassment campaigns.

For its part, Twitter claims that relatively few of the accounts swept up in the crackdown are actively malicious, and that most of the deleted accounts are simply inactive. “In most cases, these [deleted] accounts were created by real people, but we cannot confirm that the original person who opened the account still has control and access to it,” Vijaya Gadde of Twitter’s trust and safety team wrote in a blog post.

This is a story that should be followed by anyone who advertises on social media, or uses it as a communications channel. If large numbers of accounts are revealed to be fraudulent or redundant, it could raise serious questions about Twitter’s effectiveness as a marketing platform.

2) Kavanaugh nomination for SCOTUS may spell end of Net Neutrality (Techcrunch)

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court spells the likely end of efforts to reverse the repeal of Net Neutrality, tech journalist Devin Coldeway warned in an extensive commentary piece for TechCrunch.

In his analysis, Coldeway argues that Kavanaugh’s prior record as a DC circuit court judge indicates a belief — contrary to established precedent — that Congress does not have the authority to regulate internet-based communications. Kavanaugh has also argued on multiple occasions that attempts to regulate the internet constitute a violation of the First Amendment rights of telecoms and ISPs.

Based on this judicial track record, Coldeway infers that the current attempts to re-institute Net Neutrality protections will almost certainly be struck down when they are brought before the US Supreme Court, with Kavanaugh serving as the deciding vote.

That’s great news for telecoms and ISPs, who are expected to reap increased profits from this deregulation. But it’s bad news for consumers, who will have to pay more for internet service, and for marketers, who will have to pay more for ads.

3) US strikes deal with Chinese telecom ZTE to end export ban (US Commerce Dept.)

After weeks of back-and-forth negotiations, Washington and Beijing have hammered out an agreement to lift the export ban on Chinese telecom ZTE.

The repeal of the export ban was contingent on ZTE’s payment of $400 million in fines, which ZTE disbursed last Friday. The US Commerce Department celebrated the deal in a statement, touting the “toughest penalty and strictest compliance regime the Department has ever imposed in such a case.”

However, the damage may already be done: ZTE has lost more than $11 billion in market value since the ban was first announced, and was forced to cancel supply deals with several mobile phone manufacturers.

Market analysts are hopeful that the ZTE decision signals a reversal of the burgeoning US-China trade war, which began in early July. While the outlook is still rocky in the short-term, analysts expect that China will continue to open itself up to investment — long-term investors see the country as increasingly essential to a diversified investment strategy.

4) ESPN and Disney team up to bring eSports broadcasts to your living room (Blizzard-Activision)

Disney, ESPN and Blizzard-Activision have struck a deal to broadcast competitive eSports matches in primetime, the software company revealed in an announcement.

Blizzard will be integrating its popular multiplayer shooter Overwatch into the primetime TV lineups of both ESPN and ABC starting this month, bringing eSports into millions of living rooms. The deal is a landmark moment in the rise of competitive video gaming, itself a multi-billion-dollar industry.

While it’s difficult to make one-to-one comparisons between digital and TV broadcasts, eSports viewership in 2017 eclipsed both the NFL Super Bowl and the NBA finals combined. Figures like that are one more sign that gaming has becoming a highly popular and lucrative medium — one that advertisers should start taking into serious consideration as part of their marketing strategy.

5) UK slaps Facebook with fine over data scandal, calls for ‘ethical pause’ of ad services (BBC)

The Information Commission Office, the UK’s chief data protection watchdog, has slapped Facebook with a £500,000 fine as part of an ongoing investigation into how it handles sensitive user data.

This specific fine was down to Facebook’s handling of the 2017 Cambridge Analytica data-leaking scandal, while the UK’s investigation into Facebook’s business practices has been ongoing since late 2016.

Following this most recent development, the ICO has called for Facebook to institute an “ethical pause” of its advertising services, specifically its targeted advertising services that make extensive use of personal user data.

“The impact of behavioral advertising is significant, and necessitates the creation of a code of practice to fix the system,” UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham told the BBC. “Such a code would ensure that… people understand how they are being micro-targeted.”

Marketers will need to watch this story as it develops: Targeted ads are one of the central pillars of Facebook’s business model, and any move by the UK to rein in the use of this technology could have serious repercussions for the entire advertising industry.