4. March 2021

The Three Question Marks Behind Google’s Announcement

Google is setting out to change the online advertising market: Last year, the world’s largest digital advertising company had already announced that it would no longer allow cookies from third-party providers. What is new now is that Google also no longer wants to develop alternative tracking methods and will solely rely on pseudonymized group tracking in the future. This is supposed to be done with so-called “Federated Learning of Cohorts”, FLoC for short. The data protection experts of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explain the technology as follows: A flock name would essentially be a behavioral credit score: a tattoo on your digital forehead that gives a succinct summary of who you are, what you like, where you go, what you buy, and with whom you associate. What is really about to change?

 

The company has certainly put an exclamation mark on its announcement:

 

  • Google is putting pressure on the industry, especially Facebook, the number two in the digital advertising market. Unlike Google, Facebook’s business model is based entirely on spying on user behavior.
But Google also leaves us with three big question marks:

 

  • The measure pretends that our only choice is between the current business practice of tracking individuals and a new model of tracking groups of people – in other words, the choice between plague and cholera. Google ignores the fundamental question of whether we need and want targeted ads in our society at all? I advocate for a third option: turning away from ad-tech altogether.
  • Does Google’s measure really help to protect our democracy?Interest-based targeting will continue to make it possible to target information to groups of people who are susceptible to it: The new practice would not have prevented the storming of the Capitol in Washington. In the end, it only shifts the balance of power among advertisers in the online market – towards more power for Google.
  • It seems that the measure could solve many of the privacy problems of ad-tech – but would it not exacerbate many of the other problems of behavioral advertisement, such as that of discrimination or predatory targeting?

Conclusion: Google’s announcement is the company’s attempt to save its image and cement its monopoly. By shutting out the rest of the online advertising world, the Goliath of the ad-tech industry is gaining even more power over the market.

 

I see no advantage for our democracy in manipulating groups of people instead of individuals in the future. The advantages for Google, however, are obvious: The company escapes the grasp of the GDPR. This reinforces my determination that in Europe, we should put an end to the abusive business of targeting advertisement altogether – which is what I am fighting for in the EU Digital Services Act.

 

Further Reading:

03.03.2021 – Google’s User-Tracking Crackdown Has Advertisers Bracing for Change (Wall Street Journal)

03.03.2021 – FloC Is a Terrible Idea (EFF)

03.03.2021 – Warum Google Cookie-Tracking abschafft (Netzpolitik.org)

18.01.2020 – Datenschützer nicht begeistert: Das sind Googles Pläne für ein Web ohne Tracking-Cookies (T3N)

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