Google is making a radical change in the way it handles digital ads.
“People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising,” David Temkin, the tech giant’s director of product management, ads privacy, and trust, wrote in an official blog post.
To that end, Google today pledged to stop using identifying information to serve people ads across the internet.
This builds on the company’s previous announcement that it will phase out third-party cookies by 2022. After the cookies are gone, Google “will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products,” Temkin wrote.
Much of the digital advertising sector has long relied on information about users’ browsing activity to target ads. This system is why you might, after looking at a product on Amazon, be inundated with banner and preroll ads for it on virtually every site you visit. If it’s ever felt like the specter of the rice cooker or dog sweater you didn’t buy is haunting you…well, you’re not wrong.
But Google, a behemoth of the industry, is now saying there are ways to give people relevant ads without probing their personal data–or, at least, without probing as much of it.
Instead of working with cookies or similar systems, Google plans to use things like Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), also called interest-based advertising. Google believes “our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests,” Temkin explained.
FLoC-based advertising will become available for beta testing later this month, and Google expects to roll it out to Google Ads in the second quarter of this year.
“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,” Temkin wrote.
Google, like all other major tech companies, has been under increasing scrutiny over how it handles users’ private data. Temkin noted that a recent Pew Research Center study found that 72% of people feel that almost everything they do on the web is being tracked by advertisers, tech firms, and other companies; and that 81% of people think the risks of personal data scraping outweigh the benefits.