Google Says It Wants a “Privacy-First” Web

Posted on March 3, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Google, Google Chrome with 32 Comments

Google today acknowledged that the proliferation of advertising-based tracking on the web has eroded the trust of its users. And so this company, which earns over 80 percent of its revenues from advertising, now says it will improve privacy and reduce online tracking while protecting its digital advertising business. Somehow.

“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,” Google’s David Temkin writes. “72 percent of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms[,] or other companies, and 81 percent say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center.”

Last year, Google updated Chrome so that it no longer supports third-party cookies, and the firm has been working with the industry to create a Privacy Sandbox that will “protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.” And while it’s unclear how Google could ever find a happy middle ground between the needs of those two customers—users and advertisers—the firm says now that it doesn’t really need to do much more to protect its users’ privacy.

“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,” Temkin continues. “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.”

So what’s Google’s alternative? Its products will instead be powered by “privacy-preserving APIs” that prevent individual tracking while still supporting the needs of its advertisers.

“Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing[,] and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers,” Temkin claims. “There is no need to sacrifice relevant advertising and monetization in order to deliver a private and secure experience … 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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