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Google's latest Chrome extension shows detailed ad-tracking data

It shows advertisers, the number of ads per page and personal data used.
Steve Dent, @stevetdent
August 3, 2020
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Google Chrome ad transparency extension
Steve Dent/Engadget

Google has released a Chrome extension that can give you more insight into how you’re being targeted by advertisers. Called “Ads Transparency Spotlight,” it shows the number of ads loading on a page, the advertisers and ad tech companies present, and the personal data (demographics, re-marketing, interests, location, etc.) that is being used to serve the ads.

“Our new Ads Transparency Spotlight (Alpha) extension for Chrome is part of our ongoing initiative to give people more visibility into the data used to personalize ads and more control over that data,” Google wrote in the description on its Chrome web store.

Google notes that this early version only shows information about Google-served ads that have implemented Google’s “Ad Disclosure Schema,” and not other third-party ads. That schema is desiggned to help all of its advertisers disclose how they’re using your personal information, according to Google’s Github page. ”Over time, we hope the [rest of] the industry will incorporate the Ad Disclosure Schema into their ads,” Google said.

On top of showing ad information, the extension shows “all companies and services with a presence on the page,” including content delivery networks or analytics providers. It provides a link to each company’s privacy policy, showing how each collects and stores user data. Note that the extension may work differently in regions outside the US — several of us in Europe could see the advertisers and number of ads, but not any personal tracking info.

The extension is part of a push by Google to increase ad transparency and perhaps stave off further privacy-oriented legislation like the EU’s GDPR laws. At the same time, Google is trying to replace the current wild west ad system by gradually phasing out third-party cookies and introducing new ad-blocking tech that filters misbehaving ads while letting good ones through. At the same time, it introduced a suite changes to Chrome that would stop ad-blockers from working effectively, in order to help sites that rely on advertising.

The new extension is helpful, but others like Ghostery offer more detailed information about trackers, ads and other info, while giving you the ability to block them as well. Another option is the Brave browser, which also displays and blocks tracker information, while giving you access to more private browsing options.

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