Google has announced new privacy controls in Chrome that will aggressively restrict device fingerprinting and the utility of third-party cookies across the web. They’re selling these plans as providing increased protection for end-users, but it is also clearly a way to cement Google’s industry dominance while handicapping other networks.
Google tracks everything through Chrome, of course, so third party cookies and fingerprinting have little utility for them, while fingerprinting in particular has become very important for many performance marketing networks. In combination with Apple’s recent announcement of ITP 2.2 in Safari, these changes are likely to make tracking and attribution for performance marketers increasingly difficult.
Google announced the changes to Chrome at their annual I/O conference this week, and many commentators suspect they are driven by the impact that GDPR has had on Google’s growth rate, particularly in Europe (see the attached figure showing a year-on-year reduction from 29% to less than half that). Their approach to GDPR so far has been regarded with some suspicion that it is itself not compliant, so the Chrome changes may be seen as a sign of how concerned Google is about the new regulatory environment in 2019.
at their annual I/O conference this week, and many commentators suspect they are driven by the impact that GDPR has had on Google’s growth rate, particularly in Europe (see the attached figure showing a year-on-year reduction from 29% to less than half that). Their approach to GDPR so far has been regarded with some suspicion that it is itself not compliant, so the Chrome changes may be seen as a sign of how concerned Google is about the new regulatory environment in 2019.
Many performance marketing networks have made device fingerprinting a central part of their pitch regarding their ability to track users across the web and to provide attribution data. Safari has already reduced the attribution window for certain first-party cookies to only 24 hours which will affect around 26% of mobile sessions. The Chrome changes will have an even broader impact:
Chrome also announced that it will more aggressively restrict fingerprinting across the web. When a user opts out of third-party tracking, that choice is not an invitation for companies to work around this preference using methods like fingerprinting, which is an opaque tracking technique. Google doesn’t use fingerprinting for ads personalization because it doesn’t allow reasonable user control and transparency. Nor do we let others bring fingerprinting data into our advertising products.
In the medium-term the question is going to be whether lawmakers and regulators allow Google to build into their browser a feature that effectively targets their competitors in a different market (advertising). Traditionally many would interpret that an obvious case of anti-competitive, monopsonistic behavior, however interpretations have changed over time and, let’s face it, Google is spending an awful on lobbyists these days.
The ability to better control who’s tracking you to sell you things sounds great for privacy transparency, but it’s also beneficial for Google’s bottom line. These changes could impact the amount of data third parties can collect on internet users and give Google an even greater edge over competitors. That’s potentially concerning for people like presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who are interested in examining whether Google has too much power already.
Time will tell exactly how this plays out, but right now expect to see a flood of announcements from networks talking up their ability to track without device fingerprinting. As in so many areas of performance marketing today, deep pockets and the ability to invest in new technology are important competitive advantages. Smaller networks are going to find things getting harder.