Next steps to ensure transparency, choice and control in digital advertising
Ads play a major role in sustaining the free and open web. They underwrite the great content and services that people enjoy and support a diverse universe of creators and publishers. But the ad-supported web is at risk if digital advertising practices don’t evolve to reflect people’s changing expectations around how data is collected and used.
The mission is clear: we need to ensure that people all around the world can continue to access ad supported content on the web while also feeling confident that their privacy is protected. As we shared in May, we believe the path to making this happen is also clear: 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.
Working together across the ecosystem
The web ecosystem is complex—it includes users, publishers, advertisers, technology and service providers, advocacy groups, regulatory bodies and more. We’ve seen that approaches that don’t account for the whole ecosystem—or that aren’t supported by the whole ecosystem—will not succeed. For example, efforts by individual browsers to block cookies used for ads personalization without suitable, broadly accepted alternatives have fallen down on two accounts.
First, blocking cookies materially reduces publisher revenue. Based on an analysis of a randomly selected fraction of traffic on each of the 500 largest Google Ad Manager publishers globally over the last three months, we evaluated how the presence of a cookie affected programmatic revenue. Traffic for which there was no cookie present yielded an average of 52 percent less revenue for the publisher than traffic for which there was a cookie present. Lower revenue for traffic without a cookie was consistent for publishers across verticals—and was especially notable for publishers in the news vertical. For the news publishers in the studied group, traffic for which there was no cookie present yielded an average of 62 percent less revenue than traffic for which there was a cookie present.1
Second, broad cookie restrictions have led some industry participants to use workarounds like fingerprinting, an opaque tracking technique that bypasses user choice and doesn’t allow reasonable transparency or control. Adoption of such workarounds represents a step back for user privacy, not a step forward.
Exploring new privacy-forward standards for the web
Today, Chrome shared an update on their efforts to explore new foundational technologies for the web that will deliver on the vision laid out above—widespread access to free content and strong privacy for users. Chrome has offered a number of preliminary proposals to the web standards community in areas such as conversion measurement, fraud protection and audience selection. The goal of these proposals is to promote a dialog on ways browsers could advance user privacy, while still ensuring publishers can earn what they need to fund great content and user experiences, and advertisers can deliver relevant ads to the right people and measure their impact.
Getting the web standards community to work on developing a new set of technologies is a tall order, but it’s not unprecedented. The community has worked together on a number of similar challenges over the years—such as gaining consensus to phase out browser plug-ins and reaching agreement to move away from Flash. We expect this will take years, not months, and we don’t anticipate any near-term changes to how our ads products work on Chrome. But this is important work and we support the effort.
Pursuing a new level of ads transparency and user control
While Chrome explores new technologies for the web, we’re also acting on the commitment we made in May of this year to increase the transparency of digital ads and offer users more control. Over the past few months, we’ve been listening to feedback from users and partners, and have arrived at an initial proposal to give people more visibility into and control of the data used for advertising. We’ve begun sharing this proposal for discussion to key industry and stakeholder groups and we’re eager to hear and incorporate feedback.
Whether it’s working with the standards community to explore a new set of technologies, or getting feedback from participants across the digital ads industry on a proposal to increase transparency and offer users more control, Google is committed to partnering with others to raise the bar for how data is collected and used. Only by working together can we define and implement new practices that result in better, more privacy-focused experiences for users while addressing the requirements of publishers and advertisers that fund and ensure access to free content on the web.
This post was updated on August 27, 2019 with a footnote that links to a document containing additional information on the publisher revenue experiment.
1. Based on analysis of Google Ad Manager data: Effect of disabling third-party cookies on publisher revenue, May-August 2019