What does Google’s advertising cookie elimination mean for users?

On Wednesday, Google announced that it would completely switch off advertising cookies in the Chrome browser. TECHNOLOGY BUTTON discusses the possible consequences for users and competitors.

After Apple and Mozilla have shown it with Safari and Firefox, Google is now also bowing to data protection. In a post on the Google blog, the company announced that it would do without any kind of third-party advertising cookies in the future, as reported by TECHNOLOGY BUTTON .

What are the consequences of Google’s deactivation of advertising cookies for users?

With the decision, Google wants to make it clear that it takes data protection seriously. So far, data protection and Google seem to be two terms that are not compatible with each other. Switching off advertising cookies could change that for the better.

The advertising cookies used by Google and others are so-called third-party cookies. These third-party cookies track surfing behavior across multiple websites. When you visit a certain page, it can set its cookie. It used to happen automatically. In response to pressure from data protection officers, pages in the EU must at least be transparent and ask for permission. If you agree, these Cooikes remain active even if you switch to another page. This enables advertisers to display targeted advertisements that are adapted to their personal usage behavior.

The whole thing has no influence on the so-called first-party cookies. These set websites themselves in order to track usage behavior on their own pages. But not beyond that.

So far it has been the case that all users have received an individual advertising ID. This delivers customized advertising based on the data collected by advertising cookies. The elimination of advertising cookies means at least that the individual tracking no longer works.

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Google is working on an alternative to individual tracking

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Google wants to do without its core business of advertising completely. In the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, the company generated advertising income of more than 38 billion euros.

The alternative to cookie tracking is therefore a “democratic” approach. Google calls this “Federated Learning of Cohorts”, roughly translatable as “bundled research into cohorts”. FLoC is a data protection-centric approach that eliminates the need for individual tracking. Instead of a personal ID, Internet users are assigned a cohort-based ID. This ID no longer evaluates individual behavior, but sees the individual as part of a group with common interests and behaviors. According to current information, a few thousand users should each form a cohort.

Google claims that FLoC has 95 percent the success rate of cookie-driven advertising. In the advertising industry, however, this result is considered controversial. The advertising company ” AdExchanger ” reports . It is unclear whether Google gives this value as the maximum possible success rate or as an average. For advertisers who want to invest their money in successful conversions (how many users who are being served buy the product in the end), that makes a huge difference.

It is also assumed that Google uses data collected by cookies for the FLoC test. If Google switches off the advertising cookies, this data will no longer be available.

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FLoC also offers attack surfaces

When asked to what extent FLoC can actually protect individual data, we have not yet received an answer from Google. It is true that individuals are better protected than before. Nevertheless, the cohort ID also allows conclusions to be drawn about one’s own surfing behavior. If the ID is associated with other tracking methods, it may be possible to find out surfing behavior and certain websites visited.

An alternative tracking tool is about Unified ID 2.0 (UID 2.0). This technology uses email addresses to track Internet activity. This requires that users give their consent. The e-mail addresses are then encrypted in IDs and are therefore anonymous and cannot be read out. In principle, these IDs can be used by advertisers in a similar way to cookies. Google therefore considers UID to be incompatible with the increasing desire for more privacy on the Internet. Apple has also already banned the distribution of email IDs for advertising tracking in iOS 14.

And what about competing advertising companies?

Of course, Google isn’t the only company that generates revenue through advertising cookies. The elimination of third-party cookies therefore affects other, smaller competitors. The industry association of digital publishers and newspaper publishers (BDZV) therefore speculates that Google is now exploiting its market power. With a market share of more than 66 percent, Google Chrome is the most popular browser in the world. If the company manages to successfully implement FLoC, it could further expand its position in the advertising market.

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