Announced at Google's annual I/O developer conference recently, Google is also prohibiting another type of online tracking called fingerprinting. The ability to better control who's tracking you to sell you things sounds great for privacy transparency, but it's also beneficial for Google's bottom line. These changes are likely to impact the amount of data third parties can collect on internet users and give Google an even greater edge over competitors.
Changing Cookies And Fingerprinting
However, advertising companies are far from convinced and see in the move a subtle way for Google to give itself yet another edge in the online advertising space. Essentially, what the announcements from I/O do is give browser users more access and insight into what cookies have been installed on their computer and, even better, how those cookies work. The insights, Google pointed out, should tell users what cookies are helping them and what cookies are helping advertisers build personal profiles. It is also limiting online fingerprinting. Prabhakar Raghavan , SVP for Google Ads & Commerce explained in a blog post:
“Advertising has made possible open access to quality information and communication on the web—it’s changed the way people learn, play and earn, and it’s made the internet open for everyone.
“But the ad-supported internet is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations around how data is collected and used. Our experience shows that people prefer ads that are personalized to their needs and interests—but only if those ads offer transparency, choice and control.”
The result is that Chrome intends to make it easier for users to block, or clear, cookies used in a third-party context, with minimal disruption to cookies used in a first-party context. While Chrome has long enabled users to block cookies, these changes will let users continue to allow their online banking site, for example, to remember their login preferences—a function that first-party cookies enable. It also continues to Google access to user data, giving it a major advantage over its online advertising competitors.
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Details Remain Unclear
At face value, anything that improves privacy on the web through Chrome is a good thing, given that according to the most recent netmarketshare analysis from April this year, Chrome has nearly 66 percent of the market (around 90 percent of search queries are carried though Google search too).
Even still, as Paul Harrison, CTO at Fort Worth, Texas- based Simplifi pointed out, it is early days yet. While Google announced that they will be initiating new measures to support user privacy and control, Chrome has still not provided many concrete details on how they will implement this. They have said that they want to stop fingerprinting and are looking for a consensual tracking model, but this could be an opt-in model, a notification, or a control mechanism.
“Given the lack of clarity on the direction Google will take, it remains difficult to determine how this will impact advertising and what advertisers can do,” he said.
In general, he added, his company has not seen much impact on intelligent tracking prevention (ITP) as it has not been solely reliant on cookies. Even though ITP specifically isn't likely to be as impactful as some might think, the Chrome change will likely create a lot of engineering work for some on how cookies are dropped and declared.
This has the potential to drive DSPs (Demand-side platforms - a system that allows buyers of digital advertising manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface) to an identifier for advertising (IFA) approach and away from cookies. As an example, publishers are already working with 3rd-parties in their header bidding to cross match outside of the potential browser cookie limitations.
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Impact Of Clearing Cookies
Ultimately, the main areas of impact will be desktop and mobile advertising, and to some extent, cross-device targeting, Rajiv Bhat, SVP for data sciences and marketplace at India-based InMobi, this will encourage a shift in spending toward mobile in-app advertising, which does not depend on cookies. Additionally, audience targeting will become more contextual and less personal.
Advertisers should also expect an impact on their data collection and processing pipelines if they are dependent on third-party data providers. One implication of the change is that users will be able to delete third-party cookies. The actual percentage of users clearing their third-party cookies is likely to be low in the short term as privacy-sensitive users adopt these changes.
Creating Advertising Roadblocks
Tiffany Schreane (Marketing and Advertising Expert and Professor with Fashion Institute of Technology and Borough of Manhattan Community College. She pointed out that if the amount of data (first and third-party) that is available for advertisers to use to have more effective marketing strategies is in invaluable, limiting will create a number of roadblocks that will be difficult to overcome. These roadblocks include:
- Not being visible to the full scale of where potential or current targeted audiences are seeing their placements so that advertisers can retarget in order to lead to conversions
- Not having full visibility of the amount of impressions are coming through the tablet, display or mobile devices – this helps marketers learn where to best spend their money
- Potentially limit the ability for advertisers to track how their ads are performing overtime – this also helps with marketing investment as advertisers can tweak websites overtime to better SEO efforts.
Welcome Privacy Controls
While it has the potential to limit the impact of advertising for many companies are welcoming the privacy controls it offers. Dan Goldstein, President and Owner of Page 1 Solutions, said that given the Chrome browser’s dominance, it allows Google to promote consumer privacy like Apple while distinguishing Google from Facebook with its multitude of data privacy scandals. He told us:
“This should be a positive step toward data privacy for consumers and it may force advertisers to focus on contextual advertising - advertising to consumers who visit specific web pages based on the content on those pages. Contextual advertising feels a lot less like Big Brother and benefits consumers by presenting them with ads that are relevant to the content of the pages they are visiting.
Of course there is no guarantee that even with the new additions users will actually use them. While the Chrome feature(s) will provide better clarity to consumers regarding the types of cookies that are being dropped on computers/browsers, this will certainly help in differentiating Chrome from other available browsers. However, Neal Patel chair's Cincinnati-based Frost Brown Todd's Technology Industry team, says that experience shows that consumers have generally not taken advantage of the tools that are currently available in the marketplace which allow them to limit or delete advertising cookies, whether the tools are offered through the Digital Advertising Alliance's consumer opt-out page at aboutads.info or via third-party tools like Ghostery.
“We do not anticipate that the potential new features for Chrome will have much impact on advertisers or online advertising networks. The reality is that if you ask consumers whether they like being tracked through cookies for advertising purposes, a majority will say no. However, few of those same consumers do anything to limit the activity,” he said.