Google Promises to Stop Tracking Users But Will Track Groups

Google Tracking Users Featured

At first sight, this news seems stunning, that Google is vowing to stop tracking users. Could they really be eliminating their business model? Fear not – while Google is eliminating its tracking of individual users, it will continue group tracking.

Google to Stop Tracking

First, we should perhaps give credit where it’s due. Apple may be behind this, at least in part. Its recent App Store change that forces apps to disclose data collecting caused Google to delay updating its apps. After a few months, it finally updated its apps, disclosed the data it was collecting, then made this stunning announcement, though it had also floated the idea a few months back.

Many people are left asking, if Google ends its practice of tracking users, how will it support itself? It seemed like that was the majority of the company’s business model. Is Google simply replacing this practice with another way to track users?

Google Tracking Users Search

The company answered the concerns in a blog post: “We continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers. Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the Web, nor will we use them in our products.”

But as Ars Technica pointed out, the individual data is somewhat expendable, Google is replacing the individual data tracking with the Chrome “Privacy Sandbox.” This process utilizes group tracking.

Google explained in the blog post, “Advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the Web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising. Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing, and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.” If you’re selling phones, your concern lies with showing your ad to “people who care about phones,” not specifically a certain person who is interested in buying a phone.

Google Tracking Users Analytics

This means as an advertiser, you’re not so much concerned about an individual’s browsing history, as long as you know your ad is reaching people who are likely to buy your product.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox

Google’s new data-tracking system, “Privacy Sandbox,” will be powered by machine learning. People will be lumped into groups based on interests. It will show you ads based on the interest groups you belong to instead of what it knows about your individually.

It should be noted that much of this and how it will work exactly is still unknown, as it has not been spelled out by Google. However, it seems like a similar practice. Google is still collecting data. It’s still giving it to advertisers. The only difference is it isn’t keeping a profile on “John Doe.” It is instead putting you in groups, such as pet owners, frequent travelers, parents of young children, etc. So it’s still collecting that data – it’s just organizing it differently and delivering it in a different package to advertisers.

Google Tracking Users Chrome

Regardless, Google seems to feel good about its plan to stop tracking data individually more toward groups. It’s not worried about whether others will build new user tracking systems. Basically, Google does not believe any effort would be successful. It surmised, “Instead, our Web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs, which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”

Read on to learn what Google was saying about revising its data-collecting process back in January. It called the process “Flocks.”

Laura Tucker
Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

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