Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google Announces It Will Phase Out Tracking Based on Third-Party Data in Its Ad Products

David Temkin of Google:

It’s difficult to conceive of the internet we know today — with information on every topic, in every language, at the fingertips of billions of people — without advertising as its economic foundation. But as our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created a proliferation of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies. This has led to an erosion of trust: In fact, 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, according to a study by Pew Research Center. […]

I do like how Temkin admits that the company whose website this announcement is being made on has played a major role in degrading the web for around four out of five people surveyed — without actually saying that. But go on:

That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies, and why we’ve been working with the broader industry on the Privacy Sandbox to build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers. Even so, we continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers. Today, 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.

We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like PII graphs based on people’s email addresses. We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment. Instead, our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.

One reason Google is doing this is because it operates at such a vast scale that it can continue to abuse user privacy with its own services with little adjustment. This affects third-party tracking and data, so it disadvantages smaller ad tech firms that are not part of the web advertising duopoly.

Nevertheless, and in combination with antitrust action, this is a good step for an internet economy that depends less on surveillance. When the New York Times announced last May that it was going to phase out third-party user data for its online advertising, there was a similar chorus of misguided jeering. Less cross-site tracking is better for the web and better for privacy — full stop. But better is not enough.