Technology

Google promises to stop selling your browsing history to advertisers

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In brief: Google explicitly says that when it phases out tracking cookies in two years, it will not be building an alternative tracking system. It insists that going forward it is focusing on more privacy-friendly ways for advertisers to serve relevant ads to users. FLoC-based advertising and user controls are the first steps in providing a more private browsing experience.

Google announced on Wednesday that it would stop selling targeted ads based on your browsing history. The search giant has relied on data mainly gathered through third-party cookies to provide users with ads relevant to their tastes and interests. However, this has led to an “erosion of trust” that the company feels needs to be addressed.

“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,” said Google’s Director of Product Management David Temkin, citing a Pew Research Center study. “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. “

In January, Google revealed a plan to phase out tracking cookies over the next two years. Temkin stressed that once third-party cookies are obsolete, they will not build “alternate identifiers.” The company realizes that initially, competitors will provide traditional tracking methods. However, Google believes these will not last long as individual concerns grow and the privacy regulations worldwide continue to tighten.

Google does not plan to sit back and watch this happen. Future web products will use “privacy-preserving APIs.” Consumers and advertisers can both benefit from newer privacy-focused technologies.

“Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing, and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers,” Temkin said.

Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) is one technology that Google has been testing to use in place of tracking cookies. In a nutshell, FLoC places users into large groups with similar interests, effectively hiding individuals in the crowd. So far, tests have shown a 95-percent conversion rate compared to third-party cookies. Google published a white paper on GitHub if you are interested.

Public FLoC testing will begin later this month with the next release of the Chrome browser. Google Ads integration will be coming sometime in the second quarter. In April, Chrome will introduce its “first iteration” of user controls with more to come pending end-user and industry feedback.

Image credit: Stefano Garau

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