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Google ditches individual browsing history snooping to sell ads

Photo credit: iAmMrRob/Pixabay

If you’ve ever searched for something online and immediately started seeing ads for this same product on your smartphone, on your laptop and/or on your streaming TV services, that’s neither accidental nor coincidental. Search engine platforms have been using your browsing history to sell ads catered to you. Some people enjoy (or grudgingly accept) the personalized ads; others feel it’s invasive. No matter which side of the Internet privacy debate you’re on, Google is putting a stop to the Internet snooping. Sort of.

In a recent post from Google’s “Ads & Commerce Blog,” Google discussed the “economic foundation” of having so much free information at our fingertips. With the goal of providing relevant web ads comes a host of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies. But with these increasing concerns, the creators of Google Chrome are aware of the risks and “future of the free and open web” for its users.

So, in 2020, Chrome agreed to remove support for third-party cookies and provide more anonymity “while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.” They will be doing this through the “Privacy Sandbox.”

So what exactly does a “Privacy Sandbox” do? First, third-party cookies will not be utilized anymore, or built again with alternate identifiers, that would normally be used to track individuals’ browsing history. Google also confirmed they would no longer use this information for their own products.

The search engine bigwig admits that, “advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.” As technology has continued to advance, Google Chrome confirmed it is less necessary to assist companies in advertising and monetization while sacrificing users’ Internet privacy and security experiences.

Second, Google will continue to support first-party relationships on their ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers. Companies that want to continue this relationship may ask consumers to do so on their own accord or by using “free” products like unpaid email addresses, which require them to release some of their activity. (There are ways to stop personalized ads on your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Mac though.) 

Photo credit: Geralt/Pixabay

Users should be aware that this decrease in Internet monitoring will only affect traditional computer searches; smartphones continue to have the same third-party tracking. However, some companies like Apple are taking even more measures into their own hands. For example, the Apple Store requires mobile app creators to have a label that notifies customers what data is being collected on the app and how it will be used. Even if the information is not used for analytics or advertising (ex. mobile app functionality), companies still have to release information on that, too.

But while users may like this idea, social media platforms like Facebook do not. C|net reports that Facebook feels these labels hinder their targeted ads. In turn, Mark Zuckerberg’s social media platform has waged a months-long campaign against Apple, running full-page ads in national newspapers.” Facebook also has pop-ups asking users to accept its tracking and insinuated that Apple’s changes may be used for another reason: to improve sales on iPhones as opposed to being the protector of consumer privacy.

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