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Google commits to not use, build 3rd-party cookie alternatives that track individuals

Google is phasing out Chrome support for third-party cookies and plans to replace them with privacy-preserving alternatives. Once that has occurred, the company “will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

This explicit declaration comes as Google continues to “get questions about whether [it] will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers.”

We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like PII graphs based on people’s email addresses. We don’t believe these solutions will 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. 

Google cited a Pew Research Center study on an “erosion of trust” that sees “72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits.”

The company argues that it and the industry can make do with privacy-preserving APIs that don’t “track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.” This comes as Google obviously has a huge ads business and is clear-eyed about how advertising is the “economic foundation” of the internet today.

Its Privacy Sandbox alternatives are focused on using aggregated and anonymized data, as well as on-device processing.

For example, it wants to replace the third-party cookies used for ad placement with a Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) API that works by grouping users with similar browsing patterns. Instead of visited URLs leaving your browser, only a cohort ID is ever revealed. Initial tests have proven FLoC effective, with Google planning to test it in Chrome next month and with Google Ads customers in Q2.

Tests of FLoC to reach in-market and affinity audiences show that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising. The specific result depends on the strength of the clustering algorithm that FLoC uses and the type of audience being reached. 

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Avatar for Abner Li Abner Li

Editor-in-chief. Interested in the minutiae of Google and Alphabet. Tips/talk: