Google as the consumer champion once again? You better believe it, says Ken Leren, Founder, Marketing Town.
Is Google plotting to take a bite out of Apple’s privacy playbook and start blocking third party cookies on its Chrome web browser?
I hope so.
The smart money is on the internet giant announcing such a measure – and more – at its annual I/O developers conference taking place between Tuesday May 7 and Thursday May 9.
The I/O is where it often introduces new software updates and hardware products – and in an era of heightened privacy concerns among both legislators and the general public it’s easy to see why such a move appeals.
Less simple is what that means for advertisers, publishers and tech companies: but be under no illusion, if rules and regulations can’t or won’t force effective change on online privacy then Silicon Valley will.
Apple has already set itself up as something of a ‘people’s champion’ in this area. Its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) is a framework that effectively prevents companies from tracking users without their explicit consent. Now in version 2.1 it prevents the use of not only third-party cookies but some first party ones too, and those linked to finger-print identification.
It’s almost unthinkable that Google will prevent first party cookie tracking, though, as it and Apple are two very different beasts in this game. Whereas for Apple, advertising isn’t a major revenue stream, for Google it absolutely is, which means blocking that first party data would likely result in all sorts of anti-trust and anti-competition allegations. Essentially it would be forcing every adtech provider out there to have to pay to use Google’s services and there’s no way it can do that.
Yet Apple is a consumer champion in this space and Google will want to follow and – I suspect – throw in a curve-ball with something that Tim Cook’s company hasn’t yet considered. Perhaps something in the display space?
It is also only too aware of the effects of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), its forthcoming ePrivacy directive and a swathe of regulations and legislations being prepared in the US at both Federal and State levels.
And, actually, it is the tech companies that will be better able to carry out the will of such regulations than governments themselves. Think of how long it has taken to enact GDPR, which came into force last year, while ePrivacy has yet to be introduced – despite the aim being to do so at the same time. It’s also being watered down following lobbying from some of Europe’s biggest publishers, particularly around cookie legislation.
You can see why – but it’s short-sighted. You can’t get around the fact that publishers, which have struggled in the digital age, still need to make money and the more effectively they can monetise their audience the better.
This focus on cookies for publishers and advertisers also misses a bigger point: by relying on tracking individuals around the web and building ever bigger data sets means we’ve lost sight of the reality. Let’s get back to what marketing does best – looking at and speaking to audiences in context. Let’s also respect that not everyone wants to be ‘found’ online.
The effectiveness of targeting will likely drop – but it will drop for you and your competitors alike. It will also reduce the use and effectiveness of lookalike modelling – again, though, it will be the same for everyone.
Under all these new rules you can still track, measure and attribute – all of the things we can do well on the internet, but if someone lands on a website you just can’t know what they have had for breakfast that morning.
At Marketing Town we don’t rely on tracking the customer – we never have, and we never will. We track their surroundings and figure out what surroundings are the best for particular communications to occur within. I’d even suggest tracking everything about every person in the world isn’t even particularly useful most of the time – and if that level of information is scary on a brand level, just imagine what our governments could do with it.
Instead of railing against the injustices that the tech giants and politicians are putting in place, we must embrace innovation and an increased emphasis on attribution and context and audience-based targeting rather than consumer-based targeting.
In its place, how about innovating dynamic content creation, such as how to change the look and feel of an advertisement based on the sentiments of the article it sits alongside? That’s real innovation and arguably delivers a better consumer experience than something tailored to a particular individual. Could we see the art of advertising return to the internet?
In short, at a time when more of us are covering up our webcams, I expect to see something of a privacy arms race among the software and hardware manufacturers – and I applaud that.
Yes, global government rules and regulations are needed in this new digital age, but they have lost momentum and that’s disappointing.
Yes, Google and Apple are doing this for very different reasons to the legislators – they know this makes sense for the consumers but also, critically, for their long-term business models.
They can also be nimble and easily update their processes and policies to counteract ad tech’s own counteractions, whereas laws aren’t easily changed to keep pace with workaround technologies and tools.
So, for every publisher, advertiser or adtech provider worried that this will change the rules of the game. Yes, it absolutely will – and if we embrace both the letter and the spirit of this new privacy-compliant world – we’ll be all the better for it, the consumer most of all.
By Ken Leren