Google plans to stop selling ads based on people’s browsing on various websites, a change that could accelerate the upheaval in the digital advertising industry.
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The company said Wednesday that it plans to stop using or investing in tracking technologies that uniquely identify web users as they move from one site to another across the Internet.
The decision, coming from the world’s largest digital advertising company, could help steer the industry away from the use of such individualized tracking, which has come under increasing criticism from privacy advocates and faces scrutiny from regulators.
Google’s weight means that its move is also likely to spark a backlash from some competitors in the digital advertising business, where many companies rely on people tracking to target their ads, measure their effectiveness, and stop fraud. Google accounted for 52% of last year’s global digital advertising spend of $ 292 billion, according to Jounce Media, a digital advertising consultancy.
“If digital advertising does not evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is used, we risk the future of the free and open web,” David Temkin, Google Product Manager leading the charge, he said in a blog post Wednesday.
Google had already announced last year that it would remove the most widely used tracking technology, called third-party cookies, in 2022. But now the company says it will not create alternative tracking technologies or use those that are being developed by other entities. , to replace third-party cookies with their own ad buying tools.
Instead, Google says its ad buying tools will use new technologies that it has been developing with others in what it calls a “privacy sandbox” to target ads without collecting information about people from various websites. One of these technologies analyzes the browsing habits of users on their own devices and allows advertisers to target aggregate groups of users with similar interests, or “cohorts,” rather than individual users. Google said in January that it plans to begin conducting open purchase tests with that technology in the second quarter.
Google’s abandonment of individualized cross-site tracking has the potential to reshape the industry, given the market power of its ad buying tools. Approximately 40% of the money that flows from advertisers to publishers on the open Internet, that is, the part of digital advertising outside closed systems such as Google Search, YouTube or Facebook, goes through the ad buying tools of Google, according to Jounce.
Google says its Wednesday announcement doesn’t cover its advertising tools and unique identifiers for mobile apps, only for websites. But his plan is the latest sign that the tide could be turning user-tracking more broadly.
is carrying out its own plans to limit app usage tracking by requiring developers to obtain user participation permission before collecting an advertising identifier for iPhones. At the same time, privacy regulators in the European Union have received multiple complaints about the information that websites share with third parties about what content users view as part of such tracking.
One set of complaints comes from Brave Software Inc., maker of a privacy-focused web browser, where Google’s Temkin was a product manager until last summer. Google says Temkin’s participation in its plan demonstrates its commitment to user privacy. Brave did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Google’s changes come as big tech companies face multiple antitrust investigations. Smaller digital ad companies using cross-site tracking have accused Apple and Google of using privacy as a pretext for changes that hurt competition. And Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an earnings call in January that “Apple has every incentive to use its dominant platform position to interfere with the operation of our apps and other apps.”
In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority, the country’s top antitrust regulator, opened a formal investigation last month into Google’s phasing out of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. The investigation stemmed from a complaint by a group of marketers who argued that Google’s plan would consolidate the company’s weight in online advertising space.
A Google spokesperson said the company has been briefing the UK CMA on its plan to end its own use of single tracking on multiple websites.
Google’s announcement complicates the advertising industry’s efforts to find an alternative, more privacy-friendly technology to target individual consumers, such as the one led by the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media, a group of advertisers and technology companies. advertising, which would rely on new identifiers, such as strings of numbers and letters derived from users’ email addresses. Without directly mentioning the association’s effort, Temkin referred to identifiers “based on people’s email addresses” as examples of tools Google will not use.
Google recognized that other companies can go ahead with other ways to track users. Businesses that use parts of Google’s advertising infrastructure, such as its ad exchange, could continue to sell ads that use their own unique identifiers, Google said. But the company said it will not use or invest in such tools for the ads it sells.
“We realize this means that other providers may offer a level of user identity for web ad tracking that we will not offer,” Temkin wrote in the blog post. “We do not believe these solutions will meet the growing privacy expectations of consumers, nor will they withstand rapidly evolving regulatory constraints.”
There are exceptions to the Google plan. The company’s limit on unique tracking identifiers does not extend to so-called source data, information that a company obtains directly from a customer. For example, websites will be able to sell ads based on user activity only on that specific site.
It also means that Google will continue to allow advertisers to target ads on Google services like YouTube to specific customers for whom they already have contact information. But when the changes take effect, Google will stop targeting those people when they browse other websites.
A large advertiser whom Google had informed of the changes said it welcomed the initiative for privacy reasons.
“We have long recognized and championed the importance of source data, and it will become even more vital in a world where privacy comes first,” said Aude Gandon, Nestlé’s global marketing director.
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