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Charting A Course Towards A More Privacy-First Web

Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy

By David Temkin

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. 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. 

That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies, and why we’ve been all in on the Privacy Sandbox, working with the broader industry 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.

Privacy innovations are effective alternatives to tracking 

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.

Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers. In fact, our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests. Chrome intends to make FLoC-based cohorts available for public testing through origin trials with its next release this month, and we expect to begin testing FLoC-based cohorts with advertisers in Google Ads in Q2. Chrome also will offer the first iteration of new user controls in April and will expand on these controls in future releases, as more proposals reach the origin trial stage, and they receive more feedback from end users and the industry.

This points to a future where there is no need to sacrifice relevant advertising and monetization in order to deliver a private and secure experience.

First-party relationships are vital 

Developing strong relationships with customers has always been critical for brands to build a successful business, and this becomes even more vital in a privacy-first world. We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers. And we’ll deepen our support for solutions that build on these direct relationships between consumers and the brands and publishers they engage with.

Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy — and that means an end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web. We remain committed to preserving a vibrant and open ecosystem where people can access a broad range of ad-supported content with confidence that their privacy and choices are respected. We look forward to working with others in the industry on the path forward. 

David Temkin is the Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust at Google 

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