1. Google drops major privacy / ad-tech plans in blog posts; seeks industry reaction; early thumbs down
Privacy and browser-tech managers at Google Inc. revealed major privacy and ad-tech initiatives in blog posts on Wednesday and Thursday, generally aimed at squelching practices of ad-tech competitors. Google defended the moves as focused on the user experience, supporting publishers, and also said it wanted its proposals and actions to be part of a broad effort to consult with advertisers, publishers, users, and others.
IAlmost immediately, two computer scientists issued a point-by-point take-down of Google’s initiatives, saying it was “disingenuous” and absurd for Google to said that blocking cookies is bad for privacy. Princeton University Profs. Arvind Narayana and Jonathan Meyer said Google is just protecting its own ad business. Narayana was a co-author of the Do Not Track standard and Meyer is an attorney.
Google took particular aim at two things:
Moves by browser makers Apple and Mozilla to block most third-party cookies by default in new releases of the Safari and Firefox browsers. Google said the moves will drive greater ad-tech use of undesirable “fingerprinting” technology.
It will move in the Chrome browser to block so-called “fingerprinting” by ad-tech companies, as not in the interest of users.
Because Google has direct log-in relationships with billions of web users, the two items, if implemented, will have little effect on the company’s dominant advertising business, but create headaches for competitors.
In a detailed blog post, “Building a more private web,” Google’s engineering director for the Chrome browser, Justin Schuh, reiterated that the browser software would begin to discriminate in which third-party cookies it allows, rather than blocking them all. Google claims this aligns with publisher interests. He said Google will launch an open-source browser extension that displays information about ads shown to a user and which works across different browsers.
Schuh also outlined a “Privacy Sandbox” effort. “New technologies like Federated Learning show that it’s possible for your browser to avoid revealing that you are a member of a group that likes Beyoncé and sweater vests — until it can be sure that your group contains thousands of other people,” he said.
Chrome has offered a number of preliminary proposals to the web-standards community in areas such as conversion measurement, fraud protection and audience selection, writes Chetna Bindra, senior product manager, user trust and privacy, at Google, in another Aug. 22 blog post. She said Google “is committed to partnering with others to raise the bar for how data is collected and used.” A day earlier, Bindra said Google was dropping its opposition to joining the IAB’s Transparency and Consent Framework in Europe, once version 2.0 rolls out next year.
In a nod to publishers, Bindra cited in her blog post company research on the websites of 500 Google Ad Manager publisher clients in which Google removed its programmatic cookies. “For the news publishers in the studied group, traffic for which there was no [programmatic-ad] cookie present yielded an average of 62 percent less revenue than traffic for which there was a cookie present,” Bindra wrote.
In another forum, Google released what it termed “A Proposal: Giving users more transparency, choice and control over how their data is used in digital advertising.” In the PDF document from Google, which does not cite an author, the company declares: “…[T]he open, ad-supported internet is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations for privacy.”
Google states three aspirations in the document:
As a company, it “should protect users against fingerprinting for purposes of ad tracking.”
Users should be able to see and control what data is being collected, by whom and why, who is responsible for an ad and what caused it to appear.
Users should have a way to easily access information about all companies involved in data collection and digital advertising, including ad platforms, ad-tech providers and data-collection domains. It suggests a “centralized registry” for this purpose.