Google Vows to Stop Targeting Ads Based on Tracked Browsing History

Google Vows to Stop Targeting Ads Based on Tracked Browsing History
A Google logo in Mountain View, Calif., on Nov. 1, 2018. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)
Bill Pan

In a drastic shift of its core business model, Google on Wednesday said it will stop tracking individual user’s web browsing history in order to sell targeted ads.

Over the past decades, Google has helped build an online digital advertising ecosystem based on tracking users across the internet and using that data to make marketing more personalized. This is largely done via third-party cookies, which are codes placed in Google’s Chrome web browser to track information such as website visits and search records, allowing advertisers to predict the users’ preferences and show ads that are most likely to interest them.

Citing its commitment to protect privacy, the search giant reaffirmed that it will eventually retire third-party cookies, and will no longer create new tools to track users’ browsing history.

“Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products,” wrote David Temkin, Google’s director of product management, ads privacy and trust ad, in a company blog post.

“People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising,” Temkin added.

Temkin cited a study by the Pew Research Center that 72 percent of people feel that almost all of their online activities are being tracked by advertisers and tech companies, and 81 percent say they believe such data collection posts greater potential risks than benefits.

“If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web,” he said.

While Google will not cease collecting data from its users, it plans to focus on categorized groups instead of individuals. Under the new model, users with similar online behavior will be placed into specific categories, and advertisers could push ads to those groups.

The announcement comes as Google faces mounting scrutiny in the United States and European Union. One of the EU antitrust investigations specifically focuses on how Google monetized data it gathered by tracking users’ online behavior. In a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, the company is accused of suppressing competition by using billions of dollars from its advertising revenue to pay carriers, browsers, phone companies, and other entities to set Google as their default search engine.