Google’s user tracking crackdown has advertisers bracing for change

A move by Google to curb the following of web users generated mixed reviews in the advertising world, with some executives expressing cautious optimism that the change will be good for consumers and others fear it will increase the dominance of the industry. from the tech giant.

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The company announced Wednesday that its advertising tools will no longer support individual user tracking on websites starting in 2022. Taken with a similar announcement last year that Google plans to stop supporting a key tool for such tracking, called cookie cookies. Third parties, the moves represent a major shift from the biggest player in digital advertising, an industry in which many companies rely on user tracking and targeting.

Advertisers use data collected from people’s browsing on the web to determine who to show an ad to and whether that person then went on to purchase the advertised product. After the Google switch, they won’t be able to get such a detailed picture of either of them.

“In a way, it’s losing the ability to track and measure behavior as we were used to at the moment,” said George Popstefanov, CEO of digital advertising agency PMG. However, he supports the change, which he believes is better for consumers. “I think our ability to track and measure is going to change, but I don’t think it’s going to get any worse,” he said.

Scott Hagedorn, chief executive officer for North America at Omnicom Media Group, a collection of media agencies, said Google’s privacy shift is part of an inexorable trend that the company had long been bracing for. “We’ve been planning it for 10 years,” he said, describing the change as seismic.

In recent years, this preparation meant testing ways of working directly with big tech platforms like Google without being able to get a glimpse of any personally identifiable data. Google’s latest move will accelerate this kind of dynamic, Hagedorn said.

Others in the industry saw Google’s move as an anti-competitive takeover. “This is Google unilaterally trying to define privacy standards for the Internet,” said John Nardone, CEO of Flashtalking, an ad server company. “It is not appropriate”.

Google is proposing its own technologies that it says will accomplish many of the same things advertisers were trying to accomplish by tracking web users down to the individual level, but in a way that better respects consumer privacy.

These include tools that promise to group consumers into interest groups, or cohorts, on their devices and never send their browsing information to a central server. Google has claimed that these tools have worked almost as well as existing tools, which track individual consumers, and is beginning to open them up to industry testing.

PMG’s Mr. Popstefanov said it is too early to determine how well they actually work. “Is it going to be as good as what we have? No. It is too early to know if he will give us the information we need. “

Advertisers will have to decide if they are comfortable with Google’s new approach to targeting ads, which will be less accurate. “When you can precisely target people, your effectiveness is very high,” said Raja Rajamannar, Mastercard’s director of marketing and communication..

“When you do it for cohorts, it is likely to be smaller than the individual, but we don’t know how much less at this point.” He said it would take time to decipher the impact of Google’s plan.

Advertising executives said that companies that have a lot of first-hand data – information they’ve collected about their own customers, such as through apps or loyalty card programs – will be in a stronger position to carry out. precise digital advertising campaigns.

Companies that don’t have much data of their own or whose business models focus on acquiring new customers rather than marketing to existing customers will face challenges, according to John Lee, chief strategy officer at digital marketing agency Merkle.

“You don’t have this crutch anymore,” Mr. Lee said. “You have to use your own data.”

Due to the potential weakness of the Google replacement, some advertising executives believed the move created an opening for other industry players who have been working on alternative technology to track users in a privacy-safe manner.

“I see this as a great statement of opportunity for the rest of the advertising ecosystem,” said Paul Silver, director of global strategy for MiQ Digital, a company that helps agencies with media buying.

Advertisers who want to target users individually on websites will be able to do so, but not with Google’s advertising tools, Silver said.

Trade Desk, a company that makes tools for advertisers, introduced a technology that would create identifiers for users based on their emails; The plan is currently being reviewed by the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media, an advertising industry group.

PRAM has been looking to work with Google to create privacy-safe identifiers that will work in Google’s Chrome browser after cookies are removed.

Although Google’s announcement on Wednesday seemed to point to these types of solutions, Google has yet to assess whether the solutions PRAM pursued will work in Chrome when cookies disappear next year. Google’s Chrome has a dominant share of the web browser market.

“We are disappointed that Google did not work more closely with the industry before announcing its plan,” said Bill Tucker, executive director of the PRAM initiative. “But we believe this presents a critical opportunity for future collaboration.”

Other agency executives agreed with Google’s assessment in a blog post announcing the change Wednesday that individualized user tracking is unlikely to survive future regulatory actions on privacy.

“Like it or not, even if you can find ways to deliver band-aids and move on, the legislation will do away with those band-aids,” said Simon Poulton, vice president of digital intelligence at Wpromote.

Write to Keach Hagey at keac[email protected] and Alexandra Bruell at [email protected]

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