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March 12, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:06am

Magazine publisher Future backs Google despite ban on ‘alternative identifiers’ post cookies

By Freddy Mayhew

Magazine giant Future has said it supports Google as the search giant announced plans to ban ‘alternative identifiers’ as well as the cookies which many publishers rely on.

Google has said it is committed to hiding the identity of individual users in its dominant Chrome web browser and will “not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products” once third-party cookies are phased out, which is expected to be next year.

The digital advertising industry is largely built on third-party cookies, particularly when it comes to programmatic sales, which can track users across the websites they browse in order to serve them relevant ads.

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Google’s Privacy Sandbox represents an entirely new online infrastructure that it has said will meet modern concerns over digital privacy. Its new framework is not the only one in development, however.

[See more: How Google is building an internet without cookies – and why publishers are concerned]

Google said of its proposal: “We realise this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not…

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“We don’t believe these solutions will 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.

“Instead, our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”

Google said it will use FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) to identify groups of people online with similar interests who can be targeted for advertising, but individuals will remain hidden “in the crowd”.

It said that testing of this model showed that advertisers could “expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising” and that Floc was an “effective replacement signal for third-party cookies”.

It said it will use a Trust Token API “to help verify authentic traffic without exposing people’s identities in the process” and anti-fingerprinting to protect against hidden techniques for sharing data about individual users.

Google said: “People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.”

[Read more: Enter Sandbox: How Google is building an internet without cookies – and why publishers are concerned]

First-party cookies, which are served directly between a user and a website they visit, and allow for preferences, such as language, to be remembered, are not affected by the changes. In fact, Google has described first-party relationships as “vital” in a privacy-first world.

Fast-expanding publisher Future, which counts Marie Claire, Woman&Home, What Hi-Fi?, PC Gamer and T3 among its titles, has backed Google’s commitment to privacy by removing third-party cookies.

Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne said: “As a premium publisher of digital specialist media brands with scale, leading market positions and highly endemic audiences with high purchasing intent, we are well-positioned to benefit from the removal of third-party cookies.

“We are supportive of the recent Google announcements regarding the desire to protect the consumer’s privacy.”

Byng-Thorne said Future was “in a prime position to capitalise on the changes” and held first-party relationships with tens of millions of its consumers every day.

She said: “Our advertising products are built around our high value users allowing marketers to easily transact with us in a wide variety of futureproof ways.

“We have a strong strategic relationship with Google on both the buy and sell side giving us a unique view of the market and we are therefore extremely well positioned.

“These latest announcements were fully expected and we continue to operate and adapt our range of advertising solutions that allow clients and agencies access to our audiences.”

But not everyone is supportive of Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

Campaign groups the US-based Save Journalism Project and UK-based Marketers for an Open Web have accused the tech giant of only stopping third-party cookies “to enhance its own commercial interests”.

They said Google is “being disingenuous” in responding to people’s privacy worries and will continue to collect data itself from search histories and browsing habits, which it will use for its own ad business.

“Google obtain much of this data via terms and conditions that are one sided and do not offer any real choice,” they said. “The corporation is not saying that it is going to stop all these data-gathering practices.”

Alternative identifiers ban: Local press will be ‘biggest losers’

The groups warned that that the “biggest losers” would be the regional, local, and hyper-local news outlets who have a “comparatively smaller first-party readership base who will suffer dramatic ad revenue loss if they are prohibited from using third-party data in advertising”.

James Rosewell, chief executive of Marketers for an Open Web, said: “We all agree that privacy is important. Google’s proposed changes and its work arounds are not addressing privacy – and they don’t work.

“A real focus on privacy would involve splitting individual identifiers used for advertising from end users’ actual identity. This was suggested as a remedy by the CMA last year- but Google isn’t looking at that as it makes all users ‘sign in”’ or ‘sign up’ and accept its privacy mining terms.”

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