Google’s intended changes to how advertisers can target and track users in its market-leading Chrome browser were made apparent this month.
The updates announced at Google Developer I/O will require publishers to declare their cookies as same-site or cross-site using the SameSite attribute, the latter category deemed as less respectful of a user’s privacy, per the web giant’s assessment.
While this is in some way short of earlier fears that Google would turn on “Do Not Track” by default—a move that would emulate Apple’s stance in its Safari browser—its hardened stance on “opaque practices” will require an adjustment in the mindset of many advertisers, according to sources.
In particular, Google’s crackdown on fingerprinting—a method often used by ad tech in environments where the normal functionality of cookies is depreciated—is one that has the industry pondering how it will affect advertisers’ ability to assess the efficacy of their online spend.
Google’s latest updates are based on the tenets of transparency, control and crucially maintaining respect for the users’ choice on whether they are tracked by advertisers in the market-leading Chrome browser.
“One way in which we’ll be doing this is reducing the ways in which browsers can be passively fingerprinted so that we can detect and intervene against active fingerprinting efforts as they happen,” reads a blog post co-written by Ben Galbraith, director, product management and Justin Schuh, director of engineering at Chrome.
Nathan Woodman, CDO, Havas Media Group, said brands will have to devise methods that are less reliant on third-party data either by doubling down on a walled garden solution or partnering with an identity resolution provider.
“The change created by Google’s announcement will force a lot of companies to seek new models of attribution that are not dependent on directly observed ad exposure,” Woodman added.
Rob Webster, CEO of Canton Marketing Solutions, pointed to the impact advertisers saw after the rollout of intelligent tracking prevention in Safari as an example of the changes to come. “Many retailers and ecommerce companies, for example, have seen huge impacts on their targeting efforts because 40% to 50% or more of their buyers use Safari,” he said, adding, “As well as impacting retargeting and audience buying, it has also hurt measurement of search and paid social. Indeed, I suspect the change is a contributing factor to Google’s softer than expected ad earnings.”
The fact that Google will eventually offer Chrome users the option to delete third-party cookies without losing the utility of first-party cookies, how it distinguishes between the two will be of crucial importance, according to Eric Berry, CEO of TripleLift.
He echoed assertions made by influential ad-tech veteran Brian O’Kelley, which raised the importance of all cookies being treated equally within Chrome, saying this will be a crucial area to scrutinize.
“If you look at what Facebook and Google have done [with their recent public privacy vows] is really create a diversion to the question,” he added.
Simply put, Facebook and Google’s entire business model is way more dependent on advertising—ergo online data collection—hence it is crucial the industry ensures equal and transparent classification.
The pressure to deliver campaigns that yield KPIs that keep clients satisfied is likely to result in a number of “workarounds,” or hacks, from companies that have thus far provided value for clients using fingerprinting methods.
“Some people will continue to run behavioral advertising, and those campaigns will run however they can run them,” said Berry.
Such a state of “cat and mouse” is likely to result in the targeting and measurement environment becoming ever-more harsh, as infringements of the privacy principles laid down by the likes of Apple, Facebook and Google will only justify them in further raising their “walled gardens,” according to all sources consulted for this story.
This is leading some in the industry to talk up the prospect of a return to advertisers using contextual targeting as opposed to behavioral targeting, which became de rigueur among media buyers and subsequently propelled programmatic advertising.
According to such sources, this would prove a boon for the beleaguered legacy publisher sector, as (hopefully) media buyers will come to the conclusion that they will just have to pay for quality.