[iw] - Google to Stop Selling Ads Based on Your Specific Web Browsing

Richard Forno rforno at infowarrior.org
Wed Mar 3 10:30:28 EST 2021

Google to Stop Selling Ads Based on Your Specific Web Browsing

Citing privacy concerns, Google says it won’t use technologies that track individuals across multiple websites

March 3, 2021 9:00 am ET

Google plans to stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites, a change that could hasten upheaval in the digital advertising industry.

The Alphabet Inc. GOOG -1.43% company said Wednesday that it plans next year to stop using or investing in tracking technologies that uniquely identify web users as they move from site to site across the internet.

The decision, coming from the world’s biggest digital-advertising company, could help push 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 heft means that its move is also likely to stoke a backlash from some competitors in the digital ad business, where many companies rely on tracking individuals to target their ads, measure their effectiveness and stop fraud. Google accounted for 52% of last year’s global digital ad spending of $292 billion, according to Jounce Media, a digital-ad consultancy.

“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,” David Temkin, the Google product manager leading the change, said in a blog post Wednesday.

Google had already announced last year that it would remove the most widely used such tracking technology, called third-party cookies, in 2022. But now the company is saying it won’t build alternative tracking technologies, or use those being developed by other entities, to replace third-party cookies for its own ad-buying tools.

Instead, Google says its ad-buying tools will use new technologies it has been developing with others in what it calls a “privacy sandbox” to target ads without collecting information about individuals from multiple websites. One such technology analyzes users’ browsing habits on their own devices, and allows advertisers to target aggregated groups of users with similar interests, or “cohorts,” rather than individual users. Google said in January that it plans to begin open testing of buying using that technology in the second quarter.

Google’s abandonment of individualized tracking across multiple sites has the potential to reshape the industry, given the market power of its ad-buying tools. About 40% of the money that flows from advertisers to publishers on the open internet—meaning the part of digital advertising outside of closed systems such as Google Search, YouTube or Facebook —goes through Google’s ad-buying tools, according to Jounce.

Google says its announcement on Wednesday doesn’t cover its ad tools and unique identifiers for mobile apps, just for websites. But its plan is the latest sign that the tide might be turning on user tracking more broadly.

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