Light at the end of the tunnel

  • Posted by Mathieu Roche
  • On May 20, 2019

Comments on the Google Chrome privacy announcement

The Ad Tech industry has been holding its breath as we approached the May 7 Google I/O conference and the rumoured announcement that the Chrome browser would prevent usage of 3rd party cookies for (among other things) user tracking, profiling and targeting with ads. This dramatic route has been travelled by Apple’s Safari browser and the release of its “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” (ITP) feature (which turned out to be not so intelligent, by blocking all 3rd party cookies in the name of user privacy, and resulted in massive ad revenue drop for publishers). The perspective of seeing Chrome, which manages roughly 65% of web traffic (vs. 15% for Safari), following suit had Ad Tech execs, VCs, shareholders and employees (ie. tens of thousands of people) and clients (ie. most media owners, agencies and brands leveraging digital to engage with consumers) in a unique state of stress.

As it turns out, Google’s response to the privacy question is much more balanced than Apple’s. Rather than deciding for users and publishers what is right or wrong for them, it looks like Google will provide more information and more choices to consumers and media owners alike, leaving them with the ability to say what they are or are not comfortable with when it comes to data collection and usage of cookies. This approach enables Google to avoid 3 majors pitfalls:

  • It doesn’t appear to be “left behind” on the Privacy topic, which Apple has been riding hard for a few months and which could have cost it significant market share in the browser space
  • It doesn’t empower competitors to its dominant advertising business by giving them access to a better identification solution (some were talking about a Chrome ID which would have provided Google competitors with improved user identification capabilities)
  • It doesn’t kill competition either, which would have raised antitrust flags and fuelled the proponent of a separation of its Ad Tech business (fka Doubleclick) from the rest of the kingdom (and particularly its search and video platforms)

Finding a solution that protected Google’s interests, without exposing it to competitive or regulatory pressure, was quite a challenge, but it looks like Google passed the test with flying colours. However, the Ad Tech industry should not believe that it is safe for long, because even if the crackdown on 3rd party cookie usage is not as strong as it could have been, it is definitely coming.

Privacy is not just a pain in the rear or an irrational demand from activists from Ireland or elsewhere – it is a right for all citizens and consumers, and the Ad Tech industry should do a better job of putting it at the centre of its concerns. In particular, we need to do a better job at explaining that:

  • A free Internet can only be supported by advertising;
  • Advertising relies on Data to be efficient & measurable
  • Less access to Data probably means less access to free content and services, and more ads to pay for them
  • Data and Cookies are not necessarily bad when they are collected and processed in a transparent, respectful way.

Chrome’s upcoming features are apparently going in that direction, the rest of the industry should follow suit.