Google to halt tracking of users for advertising across the web

3 Mar 2021

Image: © bloomicon/Stock.adobe.com

The tech giant’s move is driven by privacy and could have a radical impact on the way the digital advertising landscape operates.

Google has announced it will stop tracking users’ browsing activity across multiple sites for the purposes of selling ads.

The company has been planning to cut off support in its Chrome browser for third-party cookies that help track user activity for advertisers. This allowed advertisers to get an in-depth view of users’ online activities and what they like in order to serve targeted ads. The practice has long been criticised by privacy advocates.

Once this change of stance on cookies comes into effect, Google said it will not implement any alternatives in a move that could upend how advertisers spend their money.

David Temkin, director of product management, ads privacy and trust, said in a blog post that the decision has been driven by privacy concerns. He cited figures that said 72pc of people feel that almost all their online activity is being tracked by tech firms and advertisers.

“We realise this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not,” Temkin said.

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He said that he believes the alternatives being explored by rivals will not meet users’ expectations of privacy nor will they be amenable to regulators down the line. Google is developing privacy-friendly alternatives, he added.

“[Our] web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”

The move is a considerable shift for the world’s largest digital advertiser to make. Google accounts for a hefty chunk of the world’s digital advertising market and any changes in policies or how its tracking technology works will have profound effects on the advertising industry.

Temkin said Google is working on a ‘privacy sandbox’ to partner with others in the advertising industry and collaborate on more privacy-minded products for advertising.

“If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web,” Temkin said.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

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