Google Chrome Will Protect Programmatic As It Enhances User Privacy

Unlike competing browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome has to strengthen user privacy without undermining online advertising.

Chrome walked that razor’s edge when it revealed plans to create a “privacy sandbox” that will increase protections to user privacy without breaking programmatic advertising that funds publisher content.

To bolster its position, Google claimed publisher revenue decreased 52% on impressions without cookies, with news publishers specifically seeing a 62% revenue decline. This data, from a study with 500 publishers, repudiates another academic study released in May that showed only a 4% ad revenue increase from impressions with cookies.

So Google wants to avoid that dramatic revenue drop and “keep content alive through personalized ads,” said Chetna Bindra, Google senior product manager for user trust and privacy.

At the same time, Google knows it needs to increase user privacy protections, and the online giant outlined the broad strokes of the changes it wants to make to protect user privacy.

Limiting fingerprinting, prominent Chrome opt-outs

Google already said in May it will take steps to prevent fingerprinting in Chrome. It added to that policy on Thursday by saying that within the next year, it will limit the number of API calls a website can make. Google didn’t say how many API calls a website can make, but that it will block those calls so the site won’t be able to do individual-level identification.

For consumers, Google proposed more prominent opt-outs and controls at the browser, website and ecosystem level. The company shared mock-ups that explain to users what data is being collected, who is collecting that data and what pieces of data led to the showing of a particular ad. There was also an option to block ads.

Google also shared a handful of other privacy initiatives to kick off a dialogue with other browsers and key stakeholders, with the goal of implementing these changes over a multi-year timespan, Bindra said.

One proposal includes not enabling the targeting of certain segments until they number in the thousands, which makes it harder to identify people. It also wants to enable anonymous browsing in a way that protects publishers and advertisers from bots.  

Chrome vs. Safari

Google’s position is in marked contrast to Apple’s Safari, whose Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) focuses on consumer privacy at the expense  of advertising tracking and measurement.

Last week, Apple acknowledged in a blog post 11 business practices, like measuring ad effectiveness, preventing fraud and bot traffic and analytics, that may break due to ITP.

Publishers that use personalized advertising topped the “unintended impact” list of those jeopardized by Safari’s cookie blocking.

Despite knowing about these problems, however, Apple accepts the trade-off in its quest to strengthen privacy for Safari users.

But Google claims Apple’s policies create yet another “unintended impact.” It’s catalyzed more covert techniques like fingerprinting that evade browser-level cookie blocking.

“A lot of these unilateral actions have hurt privacy at its core,” Bindra said. “Unilateral actions by a single browser and a single company will not serve the ecosystem well.”

Chrome would prefer to enlist other browsers in its initiatives that protect advertising and user privacy, one reason why it’s opening up some of its plans.

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