Google says it will stop selling ads based on tracking

Photo (c) ersinkisacik - Getty Images

The company’s goal is to create a ‘privacy-first’ internet experience

If you feel like internet ads follow you everywhere you go, there may be some good news on the horizon. In a monumental shift, Google is giving tracking technologies the boot, announcing that it plans to stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites.

It’s undetermined exactly how much cutting that slice out of Google’s ad business will set the company back, but it could be plenty. According to Statista, Google's total ad revenue in 2020 amounted to $146.92 billion spread across its extensive ad network. Nonetheless, the important pro-consumer point here is that Google seems to be more concerned with what it calls an “erosion of trust” from people who venture out online. 

“As our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created a proliferation of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies,” explained David Temkin, Google’s Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust.

”This has led to an erosion of trust: In fact, 72 percent of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81 percent say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center. If digital advertising doesn't evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web.”

What changes to expect

This change won’t happen overnight, but there is already forward progress. As a precursor to this move, the company announced in late January that it was going to phase out third-party tracking cookies in its Chrome browser. Once third-party cookies are completely phased out, Temkin vowed that Google will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will the company use them in its products.

In its cookieless future, Google wants everything relating to advertising -- targeting, measurement, and fraud prevention -- to be in line with the standards set by its own Privacy Sandbox. If all goes according to plan, cookies will be replaced by application programming interfaces (API) that advertisers will use to gather five unique pieces of data, including how well an ad performed and what platform actually leveraged a purchase out of an ad on its site(s). 

“The most significant item in the Privacy Sandbox is Google’s proposal to move all user data into the browser where it will be stored and processed,” Amit Kotecha, marketing director at data management platform provider Permutive, told Digiday. “This means that data stays on the user’s device and is privacy compliant. This is now table stakes and the gold standard for privacy.”

Google seems to be one of the few companies going in on this new privacy venture; there’s still dozens of digital ad networks that are mum on the subject -- at least for now.

“We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like [personally identifiable information] based on people’s email addresses,” Temkin said. 

“We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment. Instead, our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”

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