Google’s message to the advertising industry: we won’t create our own third-party cookie alternatives (and we don’t want you to either)

Google has said that it will not use alternative methods to track users online once it stops supporting third-party cookies in Chrome, and that it disapproves of the use of email as an alternative identifier for ad tracking.

Google said in a blog post on Wednesday that it will not use alternative methods to track users online once it stops supporting third-party cookies in Chrome, and that it disapproves of the use of email as an alternative identifier for ad tracking.

In other words, Google is declaring for the record that it will not invent any voodoo tracking magic of its own and that all of its web products will be powered by the privacy-preserving APIs currently in development within the Privacy Sandbox, including FLoC-based cohorts. .

The direct implications of the Google ad are not immediately clear. Will Google’s commitment not to use or support user-level identifiers for third-party ads in its products only apply to DV360, Google Campaign Manager, and Google’s demand partners, or could this also apply to YouTube? The latter is unlikely, but if so, it would be important.

But while the dust settles, Google’s statement appears to answer one of the most important open-ended questions to have arisen during meetings of the Web Advertising Improvement Business Group (IWABG) at the World Wide Web Consortium, which is whether Google plan, forgive the cliché, eat your own dog food when it comes to applying the Privacy Sandbox proposals.

There’s been a lot of skepticism on that point, especially among ad tech companies who believe Google is aggressively pushing a series of pseudo-solutions good enough for you but not for me that probably won’t work. as promised.

For example, almost every IWABG meeting since the end of January has included a discussion on how Google was able to use FLoC to drive 95% of conversions per dollar spent compared to cookie-based advertising, such as Google has claimed that it was able to do.

There has yet to be a clear explanation of the math behind the claim or confirmation that 95% is just the best possible result compared to the median that advertisers can expect with FLoC. It also appears that performance was good during testing, at least in part because Google appears to have relied on cookie-based learning to train the model, data that will not be available when third-party cookies disappear.

IWABG member companies, including Criteo, are asking Google to share a detailed document on how exactly they conducted their FLoC tests. They are still waiting.

However, one thing that is clear is that Google is heavily pushing FLoC or cohort-based IDs as a replacement for individual IDs. FLoC is one of the most developed propositions in the privacy sandbox, and Chrome will make it available for developer testing this month and for public testing on Google Ads in Q2.

But what about the industry identity initiatives, that is, Unified ID 2.0?

The Trade Desk, which spearheaded UID 2.0, has been adding partners at a rapid pace and has been preparing to make identification widely available sometime during the first half of 2021. The Association for Responsible Addressable Media is currently reviewing the UID 2.0 code, and Prebid has signed with the independent operator to implement the identifier.

Google, however, is not a fanatic.

In its blog post, Google took the opportunity to cast a bit of a shadow, perhaps even a grenade, in the direction of industry identity initiatives that are unfolding outside the auspices of the W3C.

Although Google’s director of product management for ad privacy and trust, David Temkin, the author of the post, didn’t mention Unified ID 2.0 by name, he didn’t have to.

Regarding what he called “PII graphs based on people’s email addresses,” Temkin writes that Google does not “believe that these solutions will meet growing consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they resist restrictions. regulations that evolve rapidly and therefore are not “a long-term sustainable investment”.

One could argue that it doesn’t necessarily matter what Google creates, at least in this regard. If people voluntarily share their email address and give permission for it to be used as a first-party identifier, what power does a browser or platform have to deny a user’s consent, provided it is freely given and informed?

On the other hand, there are some precedents. Apple has said that hashed emails and phone numbers collected elsewhere cannot be used as a replacement for app tracking in iOS 14, regardless of whether they were collected with consent.

Developers will only be able to get permission to use identifiers for ad tracking on iOS 14 devices if they are collected through Apple’s own AppTrackingTransparent framework.

Would Chrome institute a similar policy? The question is “could” rather than “could”, because Google could reject hashing as an encryption method, but whether it would, with antitrust complaints flying from all directions, is another matter.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing email-based industry initiatives, at least in the short term, is scale.

Although Criteo is hard at work developing a consumer-facing single sign-on user interface for publishers as part of UID 2.0, there is simply no easy way to get people who are used to unconditional web browsing to start coughing. suddenly your email. address.

There seems to be one thing Google and the ad industry agree on, and that is the importance of your own data.

Temkin ends his blog post stating that “first person relationships are vital” and that Google “will continue to support first person relationships on our partner advertising platforms where they have direct connections with their own customers.”

… but not the email addresses collected by the publishers with their consent, I suppose.

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