Industry Shrugs As Google Announces Plans To Restrict Contextual Data

Beginning in February, Google will no longer include contextual content categories – content identifiers such as “sports,” “news” or “weather” – in bid requests to ad buyers, the company said Thursday.

Google cited privacy concerns as the reason for the change, since contextual categories exposed in a bid request can be appended to individual profiles, even if the data on its own doesn’t represent a user-level privacy threat.

“While we already prohibit advertisers from using our services to build user profiles around sensitive categories, this change will help avoid the risk that any participant in our auctions is able to associate individual ad identifiers with Google’s contextual content categories,” wrote Chetna Bindra, Google’s senior product manager for user trust and privacy, in a blog post.

The change, however, doesn’t mean much to digital buyers and ad tech companies.

Google doesn’t incorporate third-party contextual ad vendors like Oracle Data Cloud’s Grapeshot or Peer39. Therefore its contextual data isn’t critical to the ecosystem. The announcement is a far cry from larger privacy-centric changes, such as Google’s decision to restrict the use of its ad ID outside of its Ads Data Hub cloud environment.

“Most DSPs do offer the ability to target content categories, so you can assume that the content categories a SSP sends through do serve a function there,” said GumGum’s SVP of global commercial development, Adam Schenkel. But he said if contextual data is being used, it typically comes from a third-party provider in the DSP, and not from Google or the media supplier.

Google also only includes broad category terms, which aren’t particularly useful for contextual data solutions, according to one exec at a contextual advertising company that is also a Google partner. Signifiers like “sports” or “beauty” are too vague to be worthwhile for companies trying to drill into contextual data taxonomies, this person said.

Third-party DSPs don’t pay much heed to supply-side context data anyway, said Chris Kane, founder and CEO of the programmatic consultancy Jounce Media. For one thing, publishers and exchanges could pass along whatever data they think makes the bid request more appealing.

Kane said the typical solution is for advertisers to use Peer39, Grapeshot or another contextual data provider to grab the page URL or app bundle ID, and look up that content on a classification table.

Beeswax co-founder and CEO Ari Paparo said the data is useful to an extent.

“The problem is that most exchanges don’t give this data, so it’s hard to rely on just one exchange’s data,” he said. “Instead most customers use Grapeshot or Peer39.”

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