Google ends sale of ads using individual web tracking data

LONDON (AP) — Google said it won’t develop new ways to follow individual users across the Internet after it phases out existing ad-tracking technology from its Chrome browser, a change that could shake up the online advertising industry.

Google said it’s taking the move to protect user privacy. It’s part of a broader shift in the industry as marketers such as Apple and regulators in the United Kingdom (UK), United States (US) and elsewhere increasingly are seeking ways to phase out more egregious data collection practices.

Still, there are concerns that it will add to the tech giant’s already dominant power in online advertising. And the change won’t affect Google’s largest advertising moneymakers: Search and YouTube.

“There’s a growing idea that if you can’t persuade consumers to part with their data willingly, you probably don’t deserve it,” said Global President of Business Intelligence at media agency GroupM Brian Wieser.

“Consumers are more aware of their data being used unwittingly. Brands (thinking long term) are asking ‘do you really want to irritate consumers with messages that create a perception of privacy being violated in some form?’ No.” The digital giant already said it would remove so-called third party cookies from Chrome.

Those are snippets of code used by advertisers to record users’ web-browsing histories in order to target personalised ads. Third-party cookies have long been a key tool for marketers to deliver targetted ads, but they’ve also been a source of privacy concerns since they trace users across the Internet in ways they might not be aware of.

On Wednesday, the company said it won’t replace those cookies with another way of tracking individuals. Instead, Google proposes grouping together web users with similar interests and keeping web histories private on user devices. Google can still track users through its own services like Search or Maps.

“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,” Google’s Director of product management for ads privacy and trust David Temkin said in a blog post. Temkin said the company continues to get questions on whether it will join others in the ad tech industry that plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers.

“Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products,” he said.