July 31st, 2020
Privacy is core to our work at Google, and to our vision for a thriving internet where people around the world can continue to access ad-supported content, while also feeling confident that their data is protected. But in order to get there, we must increase transparency into how digital advertising works, offer users additional controls, and ensure that people’s choices about the use of their data are respected—not worked around or ignored.
Today we’re sharing updates on our work in these areas, including new tools that provide people more information about the ads they see. We’re also introducing new resources for marketers and publishers that offer guidance on how to navigate today’s privacy environment, along with real-world examples from brands and media companies who are delivering effective, privacy-forward ad experiences that use data responsibly.
Greater transparency, more control
For many years Google has offered a feature called Why this ad, wherefrom an icon in a digital ad, users can get more information on some of the factors that were used to select the ad for them or choose to stop seeing that ad. There are over 15 million user interactions per day with Why this ad as people seek to learn more about and control the ads they see, and we recently extended this feature to ads on connected TVs.
Over the next few months, we’ll be making improvements to the experience with a new feature called About this ad, which will also show users the verified name of the advertiser behind each ad. About this ad will initially be available for display ads purchased through Google Ads and Display & Video 360, and we’ll bring it to other ad surfaces throughout 2021.
Our commitment to increase transparency and offer users more control goes beyond the ads Google shows. Due to the complexity of the digital ads ecosystem and the large number of entities involved, it’s typically not clear to users which companies are even involved in showing them an ad. To provide people with detailed information about all the ads they see on the web, we’re releasing a new tool called Ads Transparency Spotlight, now available to try out as an alpha extension from the Chrome Web Store. We’ll continue to improve this extension based on feedback from users, and over time we expect to offer additional disclosures about ads, as well as introduce controls. Our hope is that other technology providers will build similar transparency and control capabilities into the experiences they offer as well.
Evolving the ad-supported internet
Chrome continues to explore more privacy-forward ways for the web browser to support digital ads with the Privacy Sandbox open standards initiative. As part of the Privacy Sandbox, several proposals have been published for new APIs that would solve for use cases like ad selection, conversion measurement, and fraud protection in a way that doesn’t reveal identifying information about individual users. One of the proposed APIs, for trust tokens that could combat ad fraud by distinguishing between bots and real users, is now available for testing by developers, and more will move to live to test soon.
Once these approaches have addressed the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers, Chrome plans to phase out support for third-party cookies. These proposals are being actively discussed in forums like the W3C. Our ads team is actively contributing to this dialog—as we encourage any interested party to do—and we expect to incorporate the new solutions into our products in the years ahead.
We’re also exploring a range of other approaches to improve user privacy while ensuring publishers can earn what they need to fund great content and advertisers can reach the right people for their products. For example, we support the use of advertiser and publisher first-party data (based on direct interactions with customers they have relationships with) to deliver more relevant and helpful experiences—as long as users have transparency and control over the use of that data. What is not acceptable is the use of opaque or hidden techniques that transfer data about individual users and allow them to be tracked in a covert manner, such as fingerprinting. We believe that any attempts to track people or obtain information that could identify them, without their knowledge and permission, should be blocked. We’ll continue to take a strong position against these practices.
Much of the recent conversation about improving the privacy of digital ads has been focused on the web, but there is a range of environments in which people engage with digital ads. Our technical approach and the implementation details may vary based on the unique characteristics of each, but our vision to uplevel user privacy while preserving access to free content is consistent across the web, mobile app, connected TV, digital audio—and whatever the next area to emerge may be.
Guidance for advertisers and publishers
The future state of digital advertising promises new technologies, new standards, and better, more sustainable approaches, but it will take some time to get there. We recognize the unease that many in the industry feel during this period of transition. While there is certainly more change on the horizon, it’s critical that marketers and publishers do not wait to take action.
To help you prepare, we’ve assembled a number of recommendations for marketers and publishers to consider today. From best practices for building direct relationships with your customers and managing data, to tips for evaluating your partner and vendor relationships, to actionable examples for using machine learning and the cloud, these playbooks offer practical guidance and numerous real-world examples of companies that are successfully navigating today’s changing privacy landscape.
We’ll continue our work to move the digital ads industry towards a more privacy-forward future. In the meantime, make sure your organization is having an active discussion about privacy and that you are taking steps now to plan for what lies ahead.