The giant Ad Holding Groups have always been busy investing their riches. Notably WPP Ventures (Crunchbase), the investment arm of WPP Digital for whom investments include a 2015 $50 Million series D Investment in Refinery29. They made $50 Million from their $5 Million investment in Buddy Media when it was sold to Salesforce for $745 Million. Interpublic (IPG) (AngelList), which owns Deutsch, Huge, McCann Erickson, and R/GA, bought a half-percent stake in Facebook in 2006 for less than $5 million. In 2011 it sold half of its shares and netted $130 million in the process. They are sitting on their remaining .25% stake, valued at $212 Million. Fair play, that was a stupendous coup. In 2016 French advertising agency holding group Publicis Groupe launched the Publicis90 fund to invest €10 Million ($10.9 million) in 90 startups. The process by which they are selecting their investments looks like some kind of Facebook-Likes-regional/national-America’s-Got-Talent-clusterfuck, a million miles away from how funds behave. The lucky startups will also benefit from mentorship from senior management who’ve never launched a startup. Good luck with that.
It’s the fourth bucket of problems that keep me up at night. While bots are bad for Twitter and Facebook, polarization turns out to be a great business model — it leads to engaged and passionate users, who are good for profits and bad for democracy. The platform companies simply may not have an appetite to take on “known bugs” problems, both because these bugs are hard to fix, and because they may be bugs for democracy rather than for these businesses. Here the best fixes may be environmental. Rather than tempting or threatening (through regulation, perhaps) Facebook to fix the polarization of our political system, we need to help build a climate that encourages new rival platforms to take on these challenges. For starters, we’d look at policies that required existing platforms to allow users to export their data and move it to new platforms, and to bridge between them so users can try other ways to interact online. The implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation will be fun to watch — it’s entirely unclear whether Facebook et. al. will change their business practices universally to comply, or whether they’ll find a clever way to treat European users as a special case while maintaining their core models.