- Google says it will no longer track individual users as they browse the web.
- Google previously moved to eliminate third-party cookies, which are used to target digital ads.
- Google's decision could upend the ad industry, which has relied on these types of tracking tools.
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Google said on Wednesday that it would move away from using technologies that track specific users as they browse the web, a move that could upend the digital advertising industry.
Google had previously announced plans to eliminate a technology called third-party cookies, saying its Chrome browser would no longer use it by 2022. The search giant now says that it will not create or use any other tools that identify individual users for advertising purposes.
"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," David Temkin, Google's director of product management for ads privacy and trust, wrote in a blog post.
Google said that it would adopt APIs, or application programming interfaces, that prevent tracking on an individual level and that it intended to preserve user privacy on websites by doing things such as clustering users in interest-based groups. It's been experimenting with tools in its Privacy Sandbox that are designed to allow advertising to continue to work on the web but in a less privacy-encroaching way.
However, Google will still allow its advertising customers to target users across its range of services - from YouTube to Gmail and search - if the users are logged into their Google accounts, Digiday reported. The announcement doesn't affect mobile apps and mobile-app trackers, and it doesn't prevent publishers from selling ads based on information about how a user behaved on their sites.
Google announced in January that by 2022 it would eliminate third-party cookies, which help advertisers target digital ads. The decision is a major shift for the technology giant, which is the biggest digital advertising company in the world by share of spending.
While Google acknowledged that other providers may continue to offer advertisers the ability to track individuals across the web, its decision could still upend the digital advertising industry, which has long relied on these types of tracking technologies.
Temkin said that Google believes these types of tracking methods don't "meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren't a sustainable long term investment."
The plans throw a wrench into advertising-industry efforts to create cookieless "universal identifiers" that use more privacy-conscious methods of user tracking, such as encrypted email addresses or login information. Shares in The Trade Desk, which created the Unified ID 2.0, for example, were trading down more than 7% on Wednesday morning.
Google's rivals and other participants in the advertising ecosystem have been watching Google's moves closely. The UK's competition regulator is even investigating a complaint from an advertising-industry group alleging that Google's decision to remove third-party cookies from Chrome and replace them with technologies from its Privacy Sandbox would limit competition in the digital ad market. Other companies have been adding feedback and discussing their own proposals for cookie alternatives in subcommittees of the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C, a key web-standards group.