Google Rolls Out Proposal to Bring a Bit More Privacy to Online Advertising

Finding a middle ground between the public and publishers

There's a post-cookie window of opportunity for publishers.

After a deluge of stories about Google’s somewhat tenuous relationship with consumer privacy, it looks like the Palo Alto giant is taking some of that criticism to heart.

Today, the company announced that within the week, it would be rolling out a preliminary “privacy sandbox,” or a set of proposals intended to bring more transparency to media publishers’ practices in order to better inform consumers about which companies are handling their data and how it’s being used.

The main goal of these proposals, per Google, is to “start a discussion” that will hopefully cut down on some of advertising’s less-than-savory practices that have drawn the ire of consumers and lawmakers alike—while still ensuring that publishers get paid.

Per Chetna Bindra, Google’s product manager who heads up many of the company’s initiatives surrounding user trust, privacy and transparency, much of this proposed technology will be rolled out across open-source forums like Github for open critique by web developers, industry groups, ad-tech providers, publishers and, of course, the general public.

The company will also introduce an “experimental browser extension,” meant to show off information that an ad might be using to target a particular user. The extension will be open-source and free to modify if, say, an ad-tech company wants to disclose this information to users outside of browsers and in an app instead.

The proposal also sees Google continue its long-held stance against “opaque tracking” techniques, like fingerprinting—an aggressive tactic that identifies and targets users based on their device’s IP address or browser settings, rather than commonly used cookies. As Google points out in the proposal, some publishers and ad-tech outfits will use these techniques as a loophole to target an end user, even if they opt out of third-party tracking across the web.

Google’s decision comes on the heels of Facebook rolling out similar user-centric privacy practices. This week, the company debuted its Clear History tool in select markets, allowing users to see what information publishers and apps share with the social network via Facebook’s Pixel or the Facebook login page. This move follows a worldwide rollout of tools that gave users a window into the third-party data providers that work alongside the platform for the purposes of ad targeting.

Google’s initial document takes this one step further, proposing that users should see which companies are responsible for their data being collected as well as more nebulous parts of the supply chain, like the companies serving ads on behalf of a particular publisher or those measuring impressions and conversions.

@swodinsky Shoshana Wodinsky is Adweek's platforms reporter, where she covers the financial and societal impacts of major social networks. She was previously a tech reporter for The Verge and NBC News.