Google plans to stop targeting ads based on your browsing history

It's a big step towards becoming more privacy focused.

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In a major change for its core business model, Google said today that it plans to stop selling ads that rely on your individual web browsing history. Additionally, it won't build any tools to track your specific data across its products in the future. The announcements come after Google has committed to removing support for third-party cookies in Chrome, a move that would effectively kill the main source of data tracking for advertisers and websites. If Google stays true to its word, its future ad business won't look anything like we've seen over the last few decades.  

"People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising," David Temkin, director of product management for Google's Ads Privacy and Trust team. "And advertisers don't need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising."

It's hard to fathom that statement coming from Google, a company that's built an empire by monetizing your browsing data. Looking forward, Temkin says the search giant is planning to use privacy-preserving APIs, like the "Federated Learning of Cohorts API" (FloC), to deliver relevant ads. That solution will rely on groups of users with similar interests, rather than drilling down to your specific behavior. 

He also points out that there may be other tracking techniques from other companies, including graphs based on email address. "We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment," Temkin noted.

Google plans to make FLoC-based cohorts available for testing in Chrome trials later this month, with its next update. And it aims to test those cohorts with advertisers in Google Ads in the second quarter. Chrome users will also get access to new user privacy controls in April.

While surprising, the data tracking changes make sense for Google in 2021, as the company faces increasing scrutiny from the EU, US and other governments. By making changes on its own terms, Google may be trying to avoid stiffer regulations around data privacy. After all, if it demonstrates a good-faith effort towards increasing data protections now, governments won't have as much a need to force its hand.

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