Do you ever visit a site to look at a pair of shoes, only to find every other website starts advertising that exact pair of shoes later? That’s a practice referred to as remarketing and retargeting, and it comes through third-party cookies that track you across the web. Google says it will put an end to the practice to give you more privacy, but don’t think that means Google won’t track you anymore.
Google announced the change today in a company blog that made its stance on third-party cookies clear. It wants third-party cookies gone, and it doesn’t want to replace the system with an equivalent that will keep tracking you across the web. If you find it troublesome when you visit YouTube only to see ads for the headphones you were considering buying earlier, you’re not alone.
In its blog post, Google says the practice “has led to an erosion of trust: In fact, 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.” That’s why it plans to block third-party cookies in Chrome soon, something Firefox and Safari already do.
But the question has been, will Google just replace the third-part cookies with something that achieves the same effect? But that’s not the case. Google says it won’t help companies track you individually. But it will still track you, to group you with like-minded individuals. If you frequent woodworking sites, Google will stick you in a large woodworking group, and LEGO fans will find themselves in a similar grouping, and so on.
Interest-based advertising is already common and used across Google, Facebook, and other advertising companies, and Google’s take called FLOC. The idea is that you have more individual privacy, even as certain the companies continue to learn everything possible about you to group you appropriately. The whole world doesn’t know about you, just a few select companies.
Google will still know just as much about you as it did in the past, but other companies taking advantage of its advertising program won’t. In that manner, Google promises you more privacy, but it’s not promising to stop learning everything about you it can. You’ll see fewer laser-targeted ads for a specific item that you were browsing. And more generalized ads for the kinds you like.
Google’s move won’t put a complete end to laser-targeted ads, however. If you visit a site, create an account, and browse its items, that company will still be able to load your info as a list to places like Facebook to offer narrowly-targeted ads.
Advertising isn’t going away; the internet economy and free websites (like Review Geek) rely too heavily on those dollars to give it up. But with these changes, the nature of how you’re tracked will change. Whether or not that’s a positive change is something we don’t know yet.