Jobs Site Indeed Tries New Ad Tools as Google Lays Off Hundreds of Ad StaffIt's a time of ups and downs in the online ad game: Indeed is trying something clever and new, even as Google layoffs hit its ad business.

A group of freelance writers and editors has sued the U.S. Department of Labor, claiming the Biden administration's new rule making it more difficult for companies to treat some workers as independent contractors is illegal and should be struck down.
The four freelance workers filed the lawsuit in Georgia federal court late Tuesday, alleging that the rule unveiled last week is so vague that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit is the first to challenge the rule, which is scheduled to take effect March 11, but more legal challenges are expected and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. business lobby, has said it is considering suing. Republicans in Congress have also said they will move to repeal the rule through legislation.
The freelancers said in their complaint that they would seek an order temporarily blocking the rule while their lawsuit plays out.
The rule is widely expected to increase labor costs for businesses in industries that rely on contract labor or freelancers, including trucking, manufacturing, healthcare and app-based "gig" services.
The Labor Department referred a request for comment to the U.S. Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
When it issued the rule, the Labor Department said it was meant to clarify the test for determining whether workers are independent contractors or employees, who are entitled to legal protections such as a minimum wage and overtime pay.
But the freelancers in their lawsuit said the department failed to explain why it was abandoning a simpler Trump-era rule that was favored by business groups.
That 2021 rule said the key factors in determining worker classification were the degree of control a company exercises over a worker and the worker's opportunity for profit or loss. The new rule looks at several additional factors including the permanence of a job, the degree of skill and initiative required, and whether work performed is integral to a company's business.
"Businesses are given no useful guidance on the scope of the statute and cannot structure their conduct to comply with its demands," the freelancers said in the lawsuit.
The workers said they have "a reasonable fear that they will lose business due to uncertainty or fear of liability risks under the Department’s new rule." They are represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian group.
On Friday, the construction trade group Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) said in a court filing that it also planned to challenge the new rule on behalf of businesses in the industry.
The group had sued the Labor Department in 2021 when it first moved to rescind the Trump-era regulation, and a federal judge held that the agency did not adequately explain why it was scrapping that rule. The department appealed, and a New Orleans-based U.S. appeals court paused the case pending the release of the new rule.
ABC last week asked the appeals court to send the case back to the lower court to decide whether the new rule is valid.

Sainsbury’s will undertake a “phased withdrawal” from its banking efforts, the supermarket giant confirmed this morning.

The grocer said after a strategic review it had been decided that all financial products offered in the future would be provided by third parties – similar to the model it uses for its insurance providers.

Sainsbury’s Bank chief Jim Brown will step down from his role, to be replaced by former AIB exec Robert Mulhall.

The bank offloaded its £400m-plus mortgage book to Co-op Bank last summer.

Simon Roberts, Sainsbury’s CEO, said this morning: “We have been clear since we launched our Food First strategy in 2020 that we would concentrate our efforts on our core retail businesses and today’s announcement reflects that strategic focus.

“It’s business as usual for now at Sainsbury’s Bank and there will be no immediate changes to products and services as a result of today’s announcement. We will of course communicate directly to customers well in advance of any changes to their products and services.”

The supermarket said that there are no immediate changes for customers' products and services.

It comes as the group enjoyed a buoyant Christmas, fuelled largely by food sales but general merchandise sales disappointed.

U.S. economic activity changed little in recent weeks as hiring stalled, prices grew modestly and the private sector feared uncertainty tied to the 2024 election, a Federal Reserve report released on Wednesday showed.

A rosy outlook nevertheless pervaded the findings, since industry officials anticipated interest rate cuts this year, the report said.

On the whole, the report depicts an economy that has downshifted from blistering growth in the middle of last year, slowing hiring and putting the brakes on price increases.

The report, known as the Beige Book, detailed economic conditions in 12 different regions -- known as "districts" -- based on the results of interviews with businesses by local Fed officials.

The fresh information suggests that a prolonged period of high-interest rates has succeeded in cooling the economy, which could reinforce the Fed's plans to cut rates in the coming months.

Private sector officials nationwide drew hope from the prospect of such an outcome, the Fed report said.

"Districts continued to note that high-interest rates were limiting auto sales and real estate deals; however, the prospect of falling interest rates was cited by numerous contacts in various sectors as a source of optimism," the report said.

The fresh report appeared to contradict some economic data from recent weeks indicating robust performance.

A stronger-than-expected jobs report demonstrated solid hiring growth in December, rebuking fears of an economic downturn anytime soon.

Consumer prices, meanwhile, rose 3.4% in December compared to a year ago, accelerating markedly from the previous month and defying a smooth path down to normal levels, a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics last week showed.

Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller said Tuesday the central bank expects to cut rates this year, but that it won't be "rushed" to make the decision soon.

PHOTO: Christopher Waller, governor of the US Federal Reserve, during a Fed Listens event in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2022.
Christopher Waller, governor of the US Federal Reserve, during a Fed Listens event in Washington, D.C., Sept. 23, 2022.
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Those remarks helped send treasury yields soaring and major stock indexes tumbling on Wednesday.

The Fed risks a rebound of inflation if it cuts interest rates too quickly. An additional burst of economic activity for an already robust economy could hike demand and raise prices once again.

While the vast majority of districts reported little or no change in economic conditions, three districts reported modest growth and one reported moderate decline, the Fed report said.

Similarly, the report added, that most districts described little or no change in overall employment levels. The slow hiring gave businesses in many districts confidence that wage growth would ease in the coming months, the Fed said.

Those expectations align with forecasts at the Fed of continued progress in the inflation fight over this year.

When facing high inflation, policymakers fear what's referred to as a price-wage spiral, in which a rise in prices prompts workers to demand raises that help them afford goods, which in turn pushes up prices, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of runaway inflation.

If wage growth slows, however, policymakers gain assurance the economy will avert a spike in prices.

Inflation stands well below last summer's peak of over 9%, but remains more than a percentage point higher than the Fed's target rate of 2%.

Many market observers are expecting interest rate cuts as soon as a Fed meeting in March. As of last week, markets put the probability of a rate cut in March at 75%, said Ellen Zentner, chief U.S. economist and managing director at Morgan Stanley.

However, observers holding such expectations "may be in for a disappointment," Zentner wrote earlier this month, citing strong job gains that allow the Fed to keep rates high without fear of an imminent recession.

The cushion affords Fed policymakers "room to watch and wait," Zentner added.

 Indeed may be known as the leading job listings website, but it's actually had a side hustle as an ad business for a while--selling job ads on its website to third parties. Now it's expanding its efforts with what it's calling Specialist Media Networks. These send employers' job ads out across other websites, and target specific industries. The goal is to help employers reach the right kind of potential employees and also to send more ad money to Indeed. Meanwhile, Google, long an online ad industry leader, has laid off hundreds of ad staff. Is the ad industry changing? Here's what makes Indeed's move different:

Indeed's first Specialist Media Network is aimed at technology professionals. Paying Indeed users that opt into the scheme will see their job adverts pop up on a long list of sites that appeal to tech-centric minds, including publications like Wired. 

This is a form of targeted advertising, of course. Targeted ads are one of the mainstays of the current digital advertising business. Despite the controversy, targeted ads allow ad partners to be more sure their ads are appearing in front of consumers who are more likely to spend money on their products. Typically the targeting happens when ad companies build up a profile of a user, including using cookies. In our enlightened, privacy-centric time, of course, cookies are problematic.

Indeed has seemingly found a way to dodge such controversies and deliver targeted ad placements via this curated system. It's also tapping into a trend: Raj Mukherjee, Indeed EVP and general manager, said recent tech industry layoffs are changing how employees are looking for new roles. They are shunning traditional job listing websites, and are more open to ads on sites that they habitually read. Advertising job positions on a tech news website also allows employers to get their message in front of people who may not be actively looking for a job, but who nevertheless may be tempted to apply if they see a relevant ad. Indeed is keeping control of the job application process, too, since a click on these new embedded ads takes an applicant to Indeed's site to complete the application.

Indeed's news landed at the same time that Google reportedly laid off "hundreds" of staff from its ad sales team. The new layoffs come after a slew of recent Google layoffs across different divisions--moves that stirred up criticism of CEO Sundar Pichai, partly for making decisions that drove the layoffs, and partly for how he handled staff questions on the matter. 

An internal memo about the fresh layoffs, obtained by Business Insider, suggests the majority of job cuts will be hitting Google's Large Customer Sales unit, which, as its name suggests, sells ads to larger-scale enterprises. Instead, the team that had formerly specialized in selling ads to smaller clients will become Google's core ad system. This could be seen as an implication that Google is sensing a sea change in the advertising business, with more income potentially coming from small-scale advertisers versus traditional giant corporate customers.

Combine these developments and it suggests the online ad industry is changing as fast as tech giants are themselves changing. The change may even be particularly favorable to smaller companies, especially if Google is courting their business. Small businesses using Indeed to advertise job positions also may choose to try out its new targeted ad solution. It seems well-placed to appeal to potential Gen-Z staff--these youngsters live their life online in a way different from previous generations, and seeing job ads pop up on already familiar publications chimes, in a way, with the sort of new ad-placement, influencer culture they are familiar with.

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