Google says it won’t adopt new tracking tech after phasing out cookies

While we’ve written about attempts to build alternatives to cookies that track users across websites, Google says it won’t be going down that route.

The search giant had already announced that it will be phasing out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, but today it went further, with David Temkin (Google’s director of product management for ads privacy and trust) writing in a blog post that “once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

“We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like [personally identifiable information] graphs based on people’s email addresses,” Temkin continued. “We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.”

This doesn’t mean ads won’t be targeted at all. Instead, he argued that thanks to “advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies,” it’s no longer necessary to “track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.”

As an example, Temkin pointed to a new approach being tested by Google called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which allows ads to be targeted at large groups of users based on common interests. He said Google will begin testing FLoCs with advertisers in the second quarter of this year.

Temkin pointed out that these changes are focused on third-party data and don’t affect the ability of publishers to track and target their own visitors: “We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has described FLoCs as “the opposite of privacy-preserving technology” and compared them to a “behavioral credit score.”

And while cookies seem to be on the way out across the industry, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority is currently investigating Google’s cookie plan over antitrust concerns, with critics suggesting that Google is using privacy as an excuse to increase its market power. (A similar criticism has been leveled against Apple over upcoming privacy changes in iOS.)

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