Has it ever happened that you wanted something, and just a moment later you saw an advertisement for this item on your device? This is no coincidence - cookies from various entities installed on our devices know much more than we think. By expressing appropriate consents, we give them almost unlimited access to data about us, often including the possibility of recording and analyzing our conversations or previewing images from cameras in our devices. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of this - as a study by the Pew Research Center has shown, 72% of people believe that almost everything they do online is tracked by advertisers, tech companies, or other enterprises, and 81% say a potential risk outweigh the benefits. Fortunately, it’s not just internet users who see the problem, and major changes are just around the corner.
In August 2019, Justin Schuh, director of Chrome Engineering, announced on a Google blog that they were beginning work on Privacy Sandbox, a new initiative to develop a set of open standards to improve online privacy. It has been noticed that the widely used technologies that allow better tailoring of advertising to specific people are now used far beyond their original assumptions and don’t meet user’s expectations in terms of maintaining their privacy.
Among these techniques, fingerprinting was indicated, i.e., creating a digital fingerprint of the user. Thanks to small pieces of information that differ between users (such as the devices owned or installed fonts), it is possible to create a unique identifier that can then be used to recognize a specific Internet user. Contrary to cookies, the user can’t clean such a „fingerprint” and thus control the way information about him are collected.
The Privacy Sandbox aims to minimize the user data shared with websites and advertisers while maintaining the relevance of the advertisements displayed to them. This is to be achieved by collecting information anonymously and storing much more information only on the device. Online platform communities, including other browsers, publishers and their advertising partners, were invited to collaborate on this project. All this to develop a set of standards that protect user anonymity while delivering results to advertisers and publishers.
As Google announced in March this year, after the withdrawal of third-party cookies (which is expected next year), it won’t create alternative identifiers to track internet users or use them in its products. Instead, privacy-protecting APIs will be used that prevent individual tracking. As we can read on the Google blog „our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests. Chrome intends to make FLoC-based cohorts available for public testing through origin trials with its next release this month, and we expect to begin testing FLoC-based cohorts with advertisers in Google Ads in Q2”.
User privacy is also an important topic for the IAB Technology Laboratory (IAB Tech Lab) founded in 2014, a non-profit consortium that engages digital publishers, advertising technology companies, marketing agencies and other member companies around the world to develop standards that enable growth and creating trust in digital media. It initiated the „Project Rearc” initiative, which was also joined by PRAM (partnership for responsible addressable media). Project Rearc is a global call to action for actors across the digital supply chain to rethink and reconstruct digital marketing to respect consumer privacy.
„It’s our collective responsibility to develop standards and solutions that put consumers in control,” said Dennis Buchheim, Chief Executive Officer, IAB Tech Lab. „We must rebuild trust globally in the digital supply chain and, in order to do that, accountability needs to serve as the foundation of everything we do. This must be provable and easy to understand. Once that is achieved, addressability can be established in new forms, through a portfolio of standards and practices.”
Collaboration on the Rearc project has resulted in the creation of the foundations for 4 standards that are now open to public discussion:
- Global Privacy Platform - A document that provides technical support to local user transparency and control policies regarding the use of their data. The mission of GPP (Global Privacy Platform) is to organize the technical privacy standards into a single framework and toolkit that can be adapted to the regulatory and commercial requirements of markets in various digital marketing channels.
- Accountability Platform - these are technical specifications created so that all entities involved in the digital advertising supply chain can consistently prove that they comply with the user’s preferences and the restrictions selected by him.
- Best Practices for User-Enabled Identity Tokens - is a collection of guidelines for the encryption and use of user IDs, especially when offering personalized content or services related to a user-provided email address or telephone number. It aims to ensure the security and privacy of consumers when identity tokens are generated and passed on to partners.
- Taxonomy and Data Transparency Standards to Support Seller-defined Audience and Context Signaling - this is a new approach to addressability, using existing standards (including IAB Tech Lab content and audience taxonomy, the OpenRTB specification and data transparency standards) in a new way to enable scalable, privacy-oriented monetization of open web content and services while maintaining transparent and accountable access and use of data. It emphasizes the importance of minimizing threats through encryption and multi-layered security to prevent unauthorized access and use.
Does this mean that in the future, we will be able to receive personalized, relevant advertising while maintaining our privacy and the security of our data? Finding solutions that will satisfy all parties won’t be easy and requires cooperation at all stages of operation - probably that is why both Google and IAB Tech Lab have published their proposals and invited external entities to give their opinions. Hopefully, their work will result in the discontinuation of all technologies used to track Internet users.