In 2022 Google will remove support for third-party cookies from Chrome following a move already made by Mozilla Firefox and Safari. Ad-tech companies use these cookies to gather information about the pages we visit. A host of applications use this data to serve targeted/personalised adverts to users.
Third-party cookies have traditionally been a significant cause of privacy concerns on the web, allowing companies to track and target individuals with little to no control over the use of their data. Google has made a considerable fanfare of giving users much more control over their data and online privacy through updates to Chrome browser and a new cohort-based tracking methodology.
So what does this all mean for me?
In simple terms, you will no longer be an individual number but a number shared by an unknown quantity of internet users with similar browsing habits to you. Google will grant access to your cohort’s browsing profile to trusted third-party companies and target you directly with ad-words based on interests identified within the cohort. Your Chrome browser will have a Privacy Sandbox that will control what adverts are shown to you using Google’s proprietary algorithms.
Not much has changed then?
Well, yes and no! It means that Google has ever more control in the ad-tech space forcing third-party ad-tech companies to use the Google Privacy Sandbox to gain access to cohort IDs and the interest profiles associated with them. Previously, these companies could gather data through their proprietary mechanisms to create and monetize audiences. It remains to be seen how this will impact some of the smaller publishing companies currently using open ad-serving technologies to sell inventory.
How will this affect privacy?
There’s a lot of uncertainty in the industry regarding the level of uniqueness within a cohort. It will influence the granularity by which content can be targeted to individuals. This granularity will depend in part on the size of the cohorts that Google eventually chooses to use. It is also a major concern for privacy campaigners as it is meant to prevent individuals from being targeted directly. If the cohort sizes are too small, then this will not solve this problem.
Another privacy concern is that cohorts could be too tightly linked with sensitive profile categories such as medical conditions, race, religion, etc. While Google has plans to address this, it is still unclear how successful they will be in allowing users to control targeting by sensitive categorisation.
In theory, this should mean that you as an individual could have more control over who with and for what purposes you are happy to share your cohort profile data. In practice, it is still unclear what level of control Google will give to users.
What are the pros and cons for advertisers?
Early tests by Google indicate that the new Privacy Sandbox targeting delivers 95% of conversions compared to third-party cookie methods.
Advertisers can create interest groups based on their first-party data, upload them via a trusted server, and then use the FLEDGE methodology through the Google Privacy Sandbox API to target ads based on the interest groups created.
Similarly, adverts will be targeted based on the profile and inherent interests of a user’s cohort. So, advertisers won’t be able to target adverts to an individual based on their personal browsing/interaction history.
Where can I find out more?
The new methodology for user browser profiling is called Federated Learning of Cohorts or FLoC. Google is actively testing it right now through randomly selected users’ browsers. To see if you are part of this trial and learn more about FLoC, EFF has created a helpful web page at https://amifloced.org/.
For publishers and advertisers, this Adthrive article takes a deep dive.