Google plans to stop serving ads based on an individual’s cross-site browsing information.
The Wall Street Journal reported comments that day that the change could accelerate turmoil in the digital advertising industry. Google is the world’s largest digital advertising company, accounting for 52 percent of the $292 billion in total global digital advertising spending in 2020, according to digital advertising consultancy Jounce Media.
Google making this decision could help the industry move away from this use of technology for personalized tracking. Such tracking of users’ behavior has recently come under increasing criticism from privacy advocates and has begun to come under scrutiny from regulators. Many companies in the industry rely on tracking users’ online behavior to target ads, measure the effectiveness of ad placements and stop online fraud.
“If digital advertising doesn’t address growing concerns about privacy and how personally identifiable information is applied, the future of our free and open Internet is at risk.” David Temkin, the Google product manager leading this change, said this in a March 3 blog post.
Previously, in 2020, Google had announced that it would eliminate its most widely used tracking technology, “third-party cookies,” by 2022, but now the company has further announced that it will not build replacements for such tracking technologies, nor will it use tracking technologies developed by other companies to replace its own third-party cookies.
Instead, Google says it will use a new technology for advertising called “privacy sandboxes,” which were developed by Google and other companies to eliminate the need to track personal information from multiple websites. In January 2021, Google said it plans to conduct a public beta test of the technology for purchase in the second quarter.
Among the big tech companies, Apple is the leader in user privacy protection.
Apple is moving forward with its own plan to limit the tracking of users by apps (apps) by requiring App (app) developers to get permission from users before collecting ad identifiers from their iPhones. Still, Google’s statement that day did not address the unique identifiers that mobile apps would acquire, but was limited to websites.
Google’s move is a signal that the current attitude of regulators and the public towards tracking users is widely changing.
This action by Google has prompted efforts throughout the digital advertising industry to adopt more privacy-friendly alternative technologies when sending targeted ads to individual consumers. Google acknowledges that companies that use parts of Google’s advertising infrastructure may still use their own unique identifiers to sell ads, but Google says it will not use or invest in such tools for selling ads.
“We understand that this means other vendors will still provide some level of user-identifiable information for cross-site ad tracking, which we will not do,” Temkin wrote in a blog post, “and we do not believe such a solution would meet consumers’ growing expectations for privacy and security expectations, nor would it meet rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions.”
There are exceptions to Google’s plan. The company’s restrictions on unique tracking identifiers do not extend to “first-party data,” information that the company gets directly from users, such as websites that can still push ads to users through their behavior on their sites. This means that Google will continue to allow advertisers to target ads to specific customers who already have contact information on Google services like YouTube. But when the changes take effect, Google will stop pushing ads to these customers when they are browsing other websites.