Google says it won't build Privacy Sandbox backdoors

It's assuring spooked advertisers that it's committed to ditching third-party cookies.

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Google is attempting to assuage concerns that it will somehow bypass the privacy-friendly rules it's introducing in place of third-party cookies in Chrome. With the changes expected next year, the company recently told apprehensive advertisers that it will be beholden to the same techniques it is imposing on others. "We’ll be using these [Privacy Sandbox] APIs for our own ads and measurement products just like everyone else, and we will not build any backdoors for ourselves,” said ads VP Jerry Dischler at the Google Marketing Live event on Thursday, according to DigiDay.

As the ground has shifted on targeted ad practices, Google has pitched a new roadmap for data privacy that it hopes the ad industry will adopt. One of the central changes it is introducing is a shift away from single user IDs to cohort IDs, effectively anonymizing data by targeting ads at larger groups of people (instead of individuals) with similar interests. Google has already begun testing the so-called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) technique on millions of Chrome users. The broader Privacy Sandbox aligns with anti-tracking initiatives from Apple and Mozilla (which blocks third-party cookies in Firefox by default).

The search giant is hoping the rules will please a wide swathe of people, from lawmakers to privacy-conscious consumers to the ad industry. Regulators concerned about Google's dominance in digital advertising have pounced on the changes. At the start of the year, the UK's markets authority opened an investigation into FLoC to determine whether it would "distort competition." In March, state antitrust watchdogs amended a major lawsuit targeting Google to take into account changes to ad tracking in Chrome.

At the recent event, Google's Dischler reiterated the company's position against ad tracking for individuals. “Third-party cookies and other proposed identifiers that some in the industry are advocating for do not meet the rising expectations consumers have when it comes to privacy. They will not stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions; they simply cannot be relied on in the long term,” he said.

Google's latest statement was clearly aimed at the marketers who use its targeting tools. Advertisers and publishers have already introduced an alternative to the Privacy Sandbox in the form of Unified ID 2.0. The open-source project built by several industry groups relies on email addresses and other info to create encrypted identifiers.

Summarizing the ad sector's concerns, Digiday notes that Google has not clarified whether Chrome will be among the proprietary products that it plans to collect individual-level data from. Marketers are also anxious that Google could simply change its mind on backdoors at a later date.