Last week, Google posted its clearest statement yet about what its dominating Chrome browser (about two-thirds of the desktop market) and ad ecosystem will back after it drops support for third-party cookies next year.
And when the 800-pound gorilla stakes out its territory, the whole jungle sits up and listens
“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,” wrote David Temkin, Director of Product Management for Ads Privacy and Trust.
“Today,” he added, “we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternative identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”
He pointed out that “other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not – like PII [Personally Identifiable Information] graphs based on people’s email addresses.”
There has been a good amount of buzz about such individual trackers as Trade Desk-initiated Unified ID, LiveRamp’s Authenticated Traffic Solution and others, which create an ID based on an email address supplied by users during a login.
With the user’s consent, this email address is hashed or encrypted, and then turned into an anonymized ID. The ID can be associated with other first-party and third-party data to create a profile and device graph of an actual person. When the email address is seen again, such as during a login on another site, it is matched to the ID and the related profile/graph.
The tech giant is totally committing to large, anonymous groups of common browsing interests
There have also been various kinds of digital fingerprinting, where the minute specifics of a user’s device and browser creates a constellation of particulars that is unlikely to be duplicated by other users—browser version, OS, IP address, language settings, location, screen resolution, and many others.
Some privacy watchers have calculated that fingerprinting can be accurate 99 percent of the time. Google has previously said it would not support fingerprinting.
Other user-tracking alternatives to third-party cookies have also been proposed. But, in the new blog post, Temkin removes most of the doubt from Google’s position. He said the tech giant is totally committing to large, anonymous groups of common browsing interests to “effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.” That includes its proposal for Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoCs. Users would consent to joining such anonymous groups, which are tagged with common interests, such as a group of users whose browsing indicates an interest in science fiction. Advertisers would target the entire group, not individual users.
Google has said its testing indicates FLoC-type solutions can generate “at least 95 percent of the conversions per dollar when compared to cookie-based advertising,” although there are still questions about how measurement will work for large anonymized groups.
In addition to targeting by anonymized interest groups, Temkin also points out that Google “will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers.”
Except for fingerprinting, Google has been a bit vague in the past about what kind of solutions it would not support in the world after third-party cookies have faded away. This new post makes it clear that it is only interested in FLoC-type anonymous groups or solutions employing first-party data. In the first case, ad targeting is consented and anonymous; in the second, it is consented and based on a relationship with a brand.
However, there is still a bit of a gray area about whether Google will actively discourage the sharing of user IDs between publishers, such as preventing its Chrome browser from enabling them or blocking the employment of user IDs in advertising bidstreams. Since the alliances and structure of hashed/encrypted user IDs are still being formed, it’s likely that Google still has another shoe to drop on this front.