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Google’s Announcement Raises Eyebrows-but it’s a good thing (kind of)

Google made another announcement about the future of third party cookies yesterday, which has raised some eyebrows. They have announced, yet AGAIN, that by 2022, at the very latest, they will no longer support third party cookies. 

Before getting into why this is raising eyebrows, let me quickly remind you about the bigger picture. For the past few years, the big digital tech companies have been facing increased pressure about supporting advertisers’ efforts to collect more and more data about us individually and track all our moves across the internet. This forced some major companies to announce strategic changes for the future: 

  • Apple announced it would no longer support the usage of cookies in their Safari browser. In January 2021, Tim Cook also announced at a big data privacy conference in Europe that they will also restrict the usage of cookies in mobile apps for mobile tracking. 
  • Firefox announced the total blockage of cookie data for advertising. Together, Safari and Firefox only constitute a third of all browsers (Chrome is the giant with over 50% utilization). 
  • Google also announced it would stop the usage of 3rd party cookies. 

Meanwhile, despite all of this, advertisers are still trying to expand their reach and find creative techniques to bypass these changes.

  • With the placement of cookies on smart TVs, advertisers have now expanded into our homes and can do an in-depth analysis of our viewing habits. 
  • Instead of using cookie user ID’s, some companies have started to create digital fingerprints of us that are based on a variety of other data that, in aggregate,  allow them to identify us. 
  • Even more troubling, some companies have started placing cookies that regenerate themselves automatically even after a user has deleted them from their computer. Legally, this is very questionable, since you would need to use virus techniques to make this happen. In our opinion, this should be seen as a computer virus. 

So why did the renewed announcement from Google raise eyebrows? The timing. It is becoming clear that the pressure from lawmakers, the public and consumer protection organizations is starting to get to the big tech companies. This announcement can be seen as a signal to lawmakers that Google wants to make a real effort in addressing their concerns. But Google also provided a glimpse into their plans as to how to address privacy concerns, while still making money with targeted advertising. 

Google’s solution: group users into so-called “Flocks”. A Flock is a group of users with similar profiles. With that, you can no longer target individuals, but groups of people with similar profiles. From a consumer protection perspective, this is certainly a step in the right direction, but still hides major issues: 

  1. Google is still collecting a ton of information and it will be up to them to create Flocks that make sense. In a way, they could create a gazillion Flocks that are so specific, that it becomes almost the same as individual targeting
  2. The Flocks remove a certain level of transparency from lawmakers and things become even more murky as to what is really happening behind the scenes. 

Partially because of that, some European lawmakers are seriously questioning the entire tracking business model due to privacy concerns. They are going as far as suggesting that personal data should be disallowed for marketing purposes, which is something that is partially already in place with current HIPAA rules in the US. 

At Points, we have always been on the consumer side of concerns, despite the fact that we utilize digital marketing for our clients’ growth. However, we also believe one can exist next to the other without jeopardizing privacy concerns.