Industry news

What will Google’s new Privacy tools Mean for Publishers

Ben Morrisroe, Growth Marketer

8 May 2019

Following weeks of speculation, Google announced it will be building a browser extension that offers more transparency to web users on how advertisers use their data to profile them and serve specific ads. Google made the announcement yesterday at its hotly anticipated annual Developer I/O Conference. Google will now provide users with a “dashboard” to show them which cookies are tracking them and give them ways to prevent it. The change will allow you the option to block all third-party tracking from marketing companies looking to make money.

The big change to Chrome’s existing capabilities will be the ability to differentiate between first and second party cookies. Users will now be able to switch off or delete cookies used for online ad targeting without having to sacrifice their first-party cookies which can make browsing the internet much easier. This is information like website logins, tailored content and payment details. All of which makes it much less likely for a user to delete their cookies today.

 

The Wall Street Journal has reported that this was an ongoing project for the last six years that has seen many delays due to the complexity of the needed change to thousands of lines of code and needed negotiations with thousands of outside partners to change existing contracts and deals.

 

Google also announced a new feature on Google Ads where users will now be able to see who has paid for an ad placement served to them along with any data segments used to personalise the ad such as location, time zone etc.

What will it mean for Digital Publishers

Advertisers and buyers will have less access to user data and will have far less visibility of who users on a site are and so won't bid on the inventory. They will no longer be able to accurately target users which will decrease the amount they are willing to pay, thus decreasing your CPMs. 

What is the Difference Between First and Third-party Cookies

First party cookies are used to help websites keep track of your visits and activity which is not always a bad thing. Many online retailers can use cookies to keep track of your login details, what you have put in your shopping cart or the language you were last browsing in. Skyscanner uses them to show you your last flight searches and dates. It all helps with defining the user experience and making your internet browsing more seamless.

 

Third party cookies are used for ad retargeting and behavioural advertising. By adding tags to a page, advertisers can track a user across the web as they visit different websites. This allows advertisers to build a profile of you based on your search habits so they can better target you. Advertisers have very sophisticated targeting for their campaigns to make sure they are reaching the right potential buyers and use cookies to do this. These cookies have long been shrouded in controversy and are seen by many as an invasion of people’s privacy.

Google's new privacy tool will allow users to block cookies

Google is following in Apple’s Footsteps

Google is following in the footsteps of Apple’s rollout of Intelligent Tracking Prevention or ITP in Safari browsing which essentially opted out all users from cookies by default and has put major restrictions on what user information can be tracked and in some cases limits cookie tracking to just one day.

 

This has been a massive blow to digital publishers since its new stricter roll out on 22nd February 2019 and has more than halved IOS CPMs since its introduction by making it significantly harder for tracking and targeting purposes.

 

It appears the tool does not go quite as far as Apple’s ITP which has seen even the most premium publishers struggle to monetise views coming from Safari. But with Google’s market share being 3 times that of Safari, publishers and the digital advertising industry as a whole could be in for a rough spell.

 

Will this Affect Google’s Ability to Target Users?

Many see this as a power play from Google which will kneecap many of their competitors by taking away their ability to target users with cookies. It could strengthen its advertising dominance and deal a blow to other digital marketing companies who will have less access to tracking data to target users.

 

Cookies allow for increased competition in the advertising space, allowing digital firms to collect their own data and sell premium ads based on it. Though Google will also be losing out on cookie data, it will still have its troves of user data on individuals that it collects through its many widely used products which it can use to target users.

What Will Happen to the Future of AdTech

The importance of cookies has been decreasing over time as users move towards mobile and app browsing where they do not work. This is yet another nail in the cookie coffin following Safari and Firefox moves to remove them by default. The industry will have to find a way to cope with this major change. which many have long forecasted. Many in the industry are touting the use of universal IDs as a new alternative.

 

Google has also announced today that it will stop more shady tracking techniques such as user fingerprinting, which tracks users by aggregating data such as browser type, IP address, time zone and language. This again further limits advertiser’s ability to track users across the internet.

 

These updates will significantly hurt the ability to programmatically retarget users. If Google’s privacy tools and Apple’s ITP work as well as many fear, it will mean a complete change to the programmatic industry as we know it with audience targeting and DMPs possibly even becoming redundant.

"Advertisers and buyers will have less access to user data and will have far less visibility of who users on a site are and so won't bid on the inventory"

Tech giants are under increasing pressure around user privacy

Why has Google Made this Decision?

The update comes in a period of growing scepticism of tech giants and their use and storage of user data, particularly following Facebook's scandal with Cambridge Analytica where it was found they had shared the personal information of millions of its users with a political consulting firm connected to the campaigns of Donald Trump and Brexit.

 

Google and silicon valley are dealing with increasing public and political pressure around privacy and their use of user data with many of the tech giant’s CEOs being called in front of Congress in the US to answer for their mistakes. The move may be a preemptive play to prevent any potential privacy regulations as seen in the EU with GDPR which could hurt Google and the industry even more.

 

Google is caught between two negatives here however as by releasing this tool which Google is touting as a sign of its commitment to privacy, these changes could lead to antitrust calls for the monopoly to finally be tackled and broken up to give way for a more competitive digital advertising industry. Presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren have already vowed to tackle big tech and break up Google to try and loosen its grip on the industry.

 

Conclusion

However you look at it these new updates spell volatility in the digital advertising industry with online publishers taking a big hit due to the decreased ability for advertisers to accurately target users on their websites. Decreased targeting means decreased CPMs and revenue will fall with it.

Hopefully, the announcement of this new tool is more of a show to regulators to keep them happy. Google users have had the option to prevent cookie tracking for years but few bother to change the settings. This could be yet another tool that's too hidden for the everyday user to find.

Fingers crossed consumers won't collectively block or clear their 3rd party cookies. Many consumers already use ad blockers and so are already blocking ad related cookies. It could be the case that little will change similar to GDPR, but this will no doubt spell the end of cookies and hopefully a move towards a more transparent way of tracking.

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