Google outlines plan to increase privacy, will stop selling ads based on tracking data

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For the past year, Google has been touting its commitment to privacy and getting rid of browser-based tracking cookies. That’s an ambitious plan given the prevalence and importance of digital marketing in today’s world. Nonetheless, the company appears to be making good on its promises—or at least moving in the right direction.

On Wednesday, Google took another step forward by announcing that it will no longer sell ads based on individual tracking data. Along the same lines, it won’t build any new tools designed to track specific users across the web.

Assuming the company stays true to the plan it just outlined, the realm of internet-based marketing will soon look a lot different. In fact, it appears that advertising is on the brink of a massive shift that will put an emphasis on privacy. For internet users everywhere, that’s a good thing.

Bye, Trackers

Pick almost any website on the internet and there’s a good chance it includes tracking software built into the background. Legislation in recent years has forced most sites to inform users about their privacy policy and offer a pop-up or banner that announces the use of cookies. However, that doesn’t stop websites from tracking users across the internet. Much of that is accomplished with third-party cookies.

The sad part is that users don’t gain much (if anything) from this behavior. On occasion, cookies can be used to help sites load faster or perform better. Most tracking cookies are strictly designed to pass data on to companies for advertising purposes, though.

In a company blog post, Google’s director of product management for the Ads Privacy and Trust team, David Temkin, writes, “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.”

The irony in Temkin’s statement is clear coming from a company like Google. The search giant has built an empire over the past few decades by monetizing data from its users for advertising purposes. It now seems that Google is planning on doing things differently, however.

Shepherd of the FLoC

To help make using the internet more private, Google plans to roll out what it calls “privacy-preserving APIs.”

Technology like the Federated Learning of Cohorts API (FLoC) is designed to gather information on groups of similar users rather than singling out individuals. That also eliminates the need for third-party tracking cookies.

Google will make FLoC-based cohort testing available to Chrome developers in the second quarter of the year. Meanwhile, Chrome users will gain access to new privacy controls starting in April.

Overall, these moves are good for everyone—although they may be inconvenient for advertisers in the short term. As Google continues to come under scrutiny from regulators, however, it has no choice but to start putting a premium on privacy.

In the blog post, Temkin says, “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.”

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