Home Online Advertising How We Got Here: A Look Back At The Privacy Changes That Reshaped Google

How We Got Here: A Look Back At The Privacy Changes That Reshaped Google


As privacy concerns and antitrust actions have dominated the market, Google has reshaped its business to meet new standards set by governments and consumers.

In some ways, this is truly a new Google. Well-known products like AdX and the DoubleClick suite are gone, replaced by products like Ads Data Hub, Marketing Platform, Ad Manager and Display & Video 360.

But policy updates are even more impactful than internal shake-ups. For Google, even slight privacy and data changes can upend the ad tech ecosystem.

AdExchanger examined recent changes Google has made, ostensibly in the interests of privacy, and how those changes have played out for digital media.

Google removes third-party pixels on YouTube

In 2017, YouTube announced it would no longer support third-party cookies and pixels, disabling most outside campaign measurement.

To accommodate advertisers, it introduced a product called Ads Data Hub (ADH), a clean room environment where brand data could be merged with Google searches and other Google data assets. Search data had never been used for YouTube ad targeting before.

The move worried agency execs, since it incentivized marketers to consolidate advertising and analytics within Google.

“It amounts to using DoubleClick as a shared DMP,” said one agency exec pitched on ADH at the time. “The intent is to sell more inventory, not to improve advertiser performance.”

More changes would come with the advent of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

YouTube to block third-party ad serving in the EU

YouTube dropped the other shoe in April 2018, when it stopped all third-party ad serving in Europe due to the GDPR. In a memo to advertisers obtained by AdExchanger, Google suggested YouTube advertisers “retraffic their ads” to DoubleClick to avoid disruptions.


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The policy has remained a lightning rod for potential antitrust action.

Former AppNexus CEO Brian O’Kelley called the YouTube policy change “a devastating move” in a Senate hearing on advertising and data privacy. And Comcast’s FreeWheel ad server business argued before a congressional task force last month that YouTube is using privacy as a pretext to limit competitors, Reuters reports.

Google sharply limits the DoubleClick ID

Another GDPR bombshell came when Google revoked the DoubleClick ID for data transfers from its ad server. It also pulled the DoubleClick ID from its DSP in Europe, with plans to apply the policy worldwide starting in 2020.

Advertisers in Europe can use the IDs, but must do so within the ADH platform.

In a note to clients obtained by AdExchanger, Google said allowing access to DoubleClick IDs, which can be connected to search histories and other Google data, could violate GDPR requirements.

DoubleClick no more!

In June of last year, Google announced a major restructuring of its marketing businesses.

It retired the 22-year-old DoubleClick brand, and consolidated its network of point solutions into the Google Marketing Platform on the demand side, Google Ad Manager for publishers and Google Ads, a no-frills product for smaller businesses.

Transparency and Consent Framework misfires

The IAB Europe released the Transparency and Consent Framework (TCF) last year as an industry solution for conveying consent signals across the digital supply chain.

But the programmatic industry didn’t have the one member it needed. Google was expected to integrate with the TCF by the end of the summer of 2018, but reset the timeline to 2019 and then to 2020.

Meanwhile, regulators have made it a point to scrutinize the TCF, and Google isn’t going to mingle its consent data if doing so could put the company’s entire global revenue at risk of being fined.

Also, the TCF needed Google more than Google needed the TCF, since Google already serves the most publisher ads in Europe, and could still process consent for its consolidated ad tech stack.

But if the rest of the ad tech community didn’t work with the TCF, they would no longer be able to get the consent they needed to work within the EU.

In August, the IAB Tech Lab and IAB Europe released an updated version of the TCF, which Google has committed to implement by the end of Q1 next year.

Google Chrome dials up browser privacy protections

Chrome introduced new user privacy features that make it easier for its users to block cookies and for some user-tracking tactics, like device fingerprinting.

The new Chrome policies followed far more restrictive browser privacy changes by Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox. But Google must tread lightly with Chrome cookie policies. Apple and Mozilla don’t risk antitrust action with moves that cripple ad tech companies on their respective browsers.

Publishers lash out against Unified Pricing changes

Google’s supply-side platform Google Ad Manager has found itself in hot water with publishers since it united DoubleClick for Publishers SSP and AdX exchange.

Google faced tough pushback at a meeting in April with some top publishing partners, including The New York Times, News Corp and NBCUniversal, after it announced new policy changes to remove pricing floors and limit publishers to 100 rules in their auction. While that number sounds like a lot, publishers with large direct sales teams like the Times or IBM’s The Weather Company used hundreds of rules to manage campaigns.

Google said the floor pricing was outdated after it switched to first-price auctions. But publishers primarily used the pricing floors to require higher rates from Google. Publishers ask more from Google because it has strong audience and attribution data, so it can bid more on impressions and still have a high ROI.

Google’s ad business undergoes massive reorganization

Google’s ad business went through another shakeup last month, this time spearheaded by Prabhakar Raghavan, the engineering SVP promoted to oversee Google’s advertising and commerce products in 2018.

The reorg elevates privacy and measurement, with new unit chiefs that have purview across all Google advertising.

Competitors may claim Google’s publisher network is a monopoly, but within Google it’s a relatively low-growth, low-revenue product compared to YouTube, Search and Android. Now the ad network will lose its standing as an independent product within Google.

There are also no more DoubleClick execs in Google’s ad tech leadership. Ad tech partners trusted DoubleClick vets to represent the programmatic ecosystem within Google and to keep the core Google search teams from taking over the product.

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