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Google stops selling ads based on individual browsing history tracked


After third-party cookies expire, Google will no longer track you when you visit different websites, the company says.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

Google announced on Wednesday that it would stop selling ads based on a person’s individual browsing of websites, a move that could shake the digital advertising industry as consumers demand more privacy online.

Last year, the search giant announced it was phasing out third-party cookies, small pieces of code that advertisers can use to track user history across the web. Once those are gone from Google’s Chrome browser over the next year, the company has made it clear it won’t use or invest in any alternative tracking technology that could identify people on an individual basis.

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“If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to meet people’s growing concerns about their privacy and the use of their personal identities, we are risking the future of the free and open web,” said David Temkin, a Google product manager with focus on Data protection, it says in a blog post. “People shouldn’t have to accept being followed on the web to take advantage of relevant advertising.”

The announcement comes as Google’s search and targeted advertising business is increasingly being attacked by lawmakers and public prosecutors. The tech giant is facing three major antitrust proceedings, including a landmark case by the US Department of Justice and another complaint from a bipartisan coalition of states.

Wednesday’s announcement is part of the search giant’s foray into a “privacy sandbox” designed to allow publishers to target ads based on people’s interests without violating their privacy. The company has touted breakthroughs in AI like federated learning, which relies on Google’s systems getting smarter by using raw data on people’s devices instead of pushing it to the cloud so that Google doesn’t actually get the information sees, but still learns from it.

Google’s statement not to use alternative tracking technologies is sure to confuse others in the advertising technology industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with other software that can accurately track people, such as a method that uses email addresses used by people.

“We do not believe these solutions will meet increasing consumer expectations for data protection, nor will they withstand rapidly evolving regulatory constraints, and so are not a sustainable long-term investment,” said Temkin.

However, there are restrictions for the update from Google. The changes do not apply to “first party” data that companies collect directly from consumers. This includes Google’s own products such as Gmail, YouTube and Chrome. Also, the changes only apply to websites and not to cell phones, which consumers increasingly spend their time on.

In recent years, the technology industry has been forced to move towards data protection as consumers and lawmakers have raised concerns about the misuse of user data. Since December, Apple has required app developers on its iOS platform to provide “nutrition labels” that tell people what personal data their apps collect, such as financial information, contacts or browsing history. However, Google hasn’t provided labels for most of its apps.

Another change from Apple, rolling out in the coming months, requires developers to ask people for permission to collect data and track it across apps and websites. The change has angered Facebook and sparked a war of words between CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook. Meanwhile, Google is reportedly considering a less “strict” approach to giving users options for app tracking in its Android operating system.


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