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The Future of Privacy in Advertising

The trend with online advertising over recent years has become more strongly focused around the need for user privacy while at the same time managing the targeting and relevancy of ads. This is still an area of ongoing development and testing, which includes the use of the Privacy Sandbox by Google as they work with developers and advertisers to get the right balance between privacy and targeting.

At the core of the privacy issue is the use of third-party cookies, which have always been the foundation of many advertising strategies, such as remarketing, since these cookies enable users to be tracked across multiple websites and therefore to build profiles that can be used for future ad targeting. Apple’s Safari browser was the first to take steps in blocking user tracking by cookies, with third-party cookies blocked by default, and first-party cookies (such as Analytics tracking) are deleted after 7 days. Mozilla’s Firefox browser also blocks third-party cookies by default.

First-party cookies are set by a website or app that users may visit and these are often essential to enable the user to interact with the site on the first or repeat visits. However, the difference with third-party cookies is that the first-party tracking is not applicable to any other website and won’t track a user when they visit other sites. Users do have the option in browsers to control the use of cookies and their security or privacy settings, but most people either aren’t aware of this or don’t want to make changes from the default settings.

Google remains the main player in this area and has the most to lose, due to the wide usage of their popular Chrome browser, their big display advertising network and also the use of Google Analytics tracking. That’s why Chrome has yet to block the use of third-party cookies, but Google is taking steps to find alternative methods of controlling privacy issues and supporting advertisers, through the use of the Privacy Sandbox, which was first announced in 2019 and aims to involve developers and advertisers to find the best future solution.

This is also the reason why Google Analytics 4 has been introduced and will be the only web tracking method from Google from the middle of 2023, as this anticipates the changes in tracking options and the alternative ways that marketers and advertisers can maintain the types of tracking and targeting they need.

In terms of future tracking, the main trends that are being developed will ensure that instead of tracking individuals across the web to find out what each person might be interested in, people can be put into large groups with similar interests. Also instead of measuring how people respond to ads in a way that could reveal their identity, individuals can be kept anonymous by limiting how much data can be shared about them. In addition, instead of having companies collect people’s information in the course of showing them ads, that information can be kept on each person’s device so it stays private.

These changes mark a major shift in the way data is collected and used online, so that it’s more likely that browsers like Chrome will play a bigger role in identifying larger audience groups, rather than allowing cookies to track individuals, which has become the main concern around privacy. It’s important for advertisers – and for many online users – that advertising remains relevant as much as possible, so the challenge will be to establish the best balance for both parties.

Google is hoping to move to a development stage with browser tracking and other technologies by the end of this year, and therefore move to a full solution in 2023 or the following year. In the meantime, Google recommends that marketers prepare for the changes and look for opportunities to build direct relationships with customers, supported with a comprehensive first-party measurement solution for your website that has the appropriate tagging and consent infrastructure (such as Google Analytics 4). Also they suggest taking advantage of solutions that use automation and machine learning to help identify trends and model results when there are gaps in the available customer data.

Google has provided a Marketer’s Privacy Playbook to offer advice and tips around the above suggestions, but if you’d like to know more and discuss options for your business, please contact us now. If you also need our help to get your new Google Analytics 4 tracking in place now, please let us know.