Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
  • Google says it will no longer track individual users as they browse the web. 
  • It follows Google's move to eliminate third-party cookies, which are used to target digital ads. 
  • Google's decision could upend the ad industry, which has relied on these types of tracking tools. 
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Google said on Wednesday it will move away from using technologies that track specific users as they browse the web, a move that could upend the digital advertising industry.

Google already announced plans to eliminate a technology called third-party cookies, which the company says its Chrome browser will no longer use by 2022, but the search giant now says it will not create or use any other tools that identify individual users for advertising purposes, nor will it use those tools in its products.

"Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy - and that means an end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web," David Temkin, Google's director of product management for ads, privacy, and trust, wrote on Wednesday in a blog post announcing the news.

Google said it will adopt APIs (application programming interfaces) that prevent tracking on an individual level and instead intends to preserve user privacy on websites, such as clustering web users into larger interest-based groups. It's been experimenting with tools in its "Privacy Sandbox" that are designed to allow advertising to continue to work on the web but in a less privacy-encroaching way. 

However, Google will still allow its advertising customers to target users across its range of services - from YouTube, to Gmail, and Search - if users are logged into their Google accounts, Digiday reported. The announcement also doesn't affect mobile apps and mobile app trackers. Similarly, the announcement also doesn't prevent publishers from selling ads based on information about how a user behaved on their specific site.

Google announced in January that by 2022, it will eliminate third-party cookies, which help advertisers target digital ads. The decision is a major shift for the technology giant, which is the biggest digital advertising company in the world by share of spending.

While Google acknowledged that other providers may continue to offer advertisers the ability to track individuals across the web, its decision could still upend the digital advertising industry, which has long relied on these types of tracking technologies.

Temkin said that Google believes these types of tracking methods don't "meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren't a sustainable long term investment." 

The plans throw a wrench into broader advertising industry efforts to create new cookieless "universal identifiers" that don't use cookies but other, purportedly more privacy-conscious methods of user tracking, such as encrypted email addresses or login information. Shares in The Trade Desk, which created the "Unified ID 2.0," for example, were trading down more than 7% at the time of writing on Wednesday morning. 

Google's rivals and other participants in the advertising ecosystem have been watching Google's moves closely and often with scrutiny. In the UK, the country's competition regulator is even investigating a complaint from an advertising industry group that alleges Google's decision to remove third-party cookies from Chrome and replace it with technologies from its Privacy Sandbox would limit competition in the digital ad market. Other companies have been adding feedback and discussing their own proposals for cookie alternatives in subcommittees of the World Wide Web consortium, or W3C, a key web standards group.  

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