3 Pro-Privacy Moves from Google, and 1 Way Brands Can Still Hold Their Ground



Google’s recent product moves are giving a great deal of data control back to its users. How will advertisers fare in this new pro-privacy world?

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For a world dominated by talk of social platforms, “privacy” seems to be the word on everyone’s lips lately.

Facebook has touted its next steps as hospitable to a world where in-group conversations and ephemeral messaging reign. Apple’s most recent update to its Safari browser has taken draconian measures to limit cookies. And Google is joining in on the conversation, with CEO Sundar Pichai taking a strong stance by saying, “Privacy should not be a luxury good. We’re also working hard to challenge the assumption that products need more data to be helpful.” Three recent product updates from the company reflect their commitment to the latter statement, but what impact will these moves have on their success in – and the industry’s reliance on – the advertising tech business?

C is for Cookies, and Clarity

The three tenets Google has adopted to articulate their philosophy on privacy are transparency, control, and respect for user choice. Their forthcoming capability for cookies, in many ways, addresses all three of those tenets. A number of existing Chrome features are due for an overhaul, and will result in users having more control over how cookies are collected and how they can be removed.

A key element of this process is creating a clear distinction between third-party cookies (collected based on your actions taken online) and first-party cookies (information you input and request to have saved, like purchasing information and passwords). By ensuring that these types of cookies are differentiated from one another, users can remove information that informs their ad displays but still “remember” things like credit card numbers or challenging passwords.

Fighting Back with Browsers

Browser functionality is essential in enacting the changes listed above. To that end, several additional changes were announced specifically for Chrome, the market-leading web browser, as well as extensions for its competitors Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari. First, the Chrome team is fighting back against what it calls ‘opaque tracking’ strategies, which don’t use cookies but do still capture user information. “Fingerprinting,” or the process of mining and aggregating data on browser type, IP address, time zone, and language, will be cracked down upon considerably.

But the transparency won’t stop there. For data that has already been collected and is in use for ad targeting, a new browser extension will demystify the ad “serving” process. Per AdWeek, “if a user is served an ad for a brand, the extension will tell them who paid for the placement plus the additional data segments used to personalize ads and the companies involved with the process.” Put another way by Google’s Senior VP for ads and commerce, “We want to give users more visibility into the data used to personalize ads and the companies involved in the process.” As calls for privacy grow ever louder from consumers rightfully concerned about their data and its safety, these measures go a long way to address and quiet those worries.

Saying “Later” to Locations and “Adios” to Activities

Earlier this month, the company announced that it was creating a capability to delete location and activity history from Google accounts. Users can toggle settings to keep this information forever, delete it after three months, or delete it after eighteen months. Compared to their nearest competitor in the ad market, Facebook – whose analogous feature has been delayed several times, Google seems more open to the possibility of holding less information from their users. Per CNET, you can also opt to disable web and app activity tracking.

CNET has opined that “for [Google’s focus on privacy] to work, Pichai’s promise [to optimize products with less data] has to be sincere.” And in a number of ways, they’re taking concrete actions that demonstrate that it is, at least for now. But in light of the considerable power these moves give Google users and prospective consumers, where do advertisers find themselves now?

Time to Ask Before You Act

Needless to say, rumors about proposed changes to this mammoth company’s ad practices (Google Ads is the largest player in the ad tech game, holding 31% of the market share) created worries for advertisers and brands. But they’re reportedly open to the changes that have been proposed, with S4 Capital’s head Martin Sorrell calling them “a good move.” He went on to share an important note for those grasping for new strategy in light of this newly empowered consumer base: the more difficult advertisers have it when accessing data on how their campaigns perform, the more important it will be for brands to have a direct relationship with consumers.

At last fall’s Social Media Week London, this exact challenge came up during “Can Privacy and Personalization Co-Exist?Wayin’s Rich Jones insisted that this new consumer awareness of ad targeting practices was not only the end of this era of marketing, but that “it’s going to make us better.” Brands who can connect meaningfully with prospective customers, earning their trust rather than co-opting it through data they may not have realized they’re sharing, will perform at a higher level and with more brand loyalty.

So yes, targeting may be a little less exact than before now that there’s more ease over controlling your data. What will you do with the attention you do garner? How will you use in good and trustworthy ways? The challenge course is now set, thanks to Google—it’s on us to do the right, smart, and better thing.

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