Google Says Goodbye to Tracking
Written by: Stephanie Bariatti, SMB Media Marketing Consultant
Google is done with cookies.
Back in January 2020, the mega company announced that it would be phasing out third-party cookies in Google’s Chrome browser. And in a recently published blog post, Google specified that its products would be powered by tech aimed at preserving privacy and thwarting the practice of tracking individual users.
Citing its desire for a “privacy first web,” David Temkin, Google’s director of product management, ads privacy and trust said, "People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don't need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising."
Privacy concerns across the web have been a hot button issue in recent years. People want to be able to trust the tech they use. The more they find out about they ways companies like Google and Facebook track their every move, the more that trust erodes. In fact, Temkin cited Pew Center Research in his statement, saying "72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits."
This sentiment has prompted Apple to take certain measures to prioritize privacy that have been met with positive feedback. This includes its soon to launch iOS 14.5 feature that spells the end of the identifier for advertisers (IDFA).
Google realizes they cannot be left behind in the quest for tighter privacy measures. So they will stop using the third-party cookies that have long been used to track your online activity and send you personalized ads. But what will they use instead?
For starters, they will not be using alternative user-level identifiers, as many had suspected. Temkin made this clear: "We’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.” Instead, as part of their Privacy Sandbox, Google says it plans to use something called a Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which it claims can “hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.”
It sort of works like this, as explained by Inc.com's Jason Aten: “Instead of an ad network knowing that you were browsing for new golf clubs and then showing you ads for golf clubs across the internet, Chrome will build a profile of your interests, and then identify you as a part of a FloC. Advertisers can then bid to show their ads to say, 40-year-old dads who like to play golf." So Google is still gathering information about your web activity—just in the browser rather than on Google’s server—to identify you as part of a group.
However, rather than successfully addressing the privacy issue, this could just create new problems. FloC critic EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) thinks this is a "terrible idea." EFF's Bennett Cyphers argues, "The technology will avoid the privacy risks of third-party cookies, but it will create new ones in the process. It may also exacerbate many of the worst non-privacy problems with behavioral ads, including discrimination and predatory targeting."
We have to remember that Google's business model is based on advertising. Their actual product is free. So just because traditional ways of selling personal information to advertisers are slowly being phased out, it doesn’t mean Google and the other big companies won't figure out another way to pinpoint users.
One method that makes many people leery is fingerprinting. This practice uses data about your devices such as IP and device type in an attempt to target a user. “The advertiser who buys this data may not know personal details such as the user’s name but they would be able to successfully follow this user around the internet and send them specifically targeted adverts,” warns Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET.
Still, Google maintains that individual tracking will not happen and first-party relationships will be supported. I look forward to seeing exactly how the situation will play out. On the bright side, maybe we can at least say goodbye to those annoying ads that seem to follow us everywhere after we search for something one time.
Stephanie Bariatti works as a Consultant and Project Manager for SMB Media Consulting. She has had extensive experience with many facets of advertising and media, having worked for and with creative agencies, production companies and research departments. She lives in New York with her wonderful husband, three lovable little boys and a snuggly Golden Retriever.
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