Not Every Agency and Ad Tech Firm is Decrying Google’s Privacy Moves

Headlines abound proclaiming the death of digital advertising amid the deprecation of the third-party cookie and Apple’s IDFA, a mobile tracking device. Ad tech providers and agencies are widely accusing Google and Apple of falsely rolling out privacy initiatives that will actually just make business much harder for smaller players.

And there’s a good case for the speculation that Google, in its heart of hearts, doesn’t care about privacy. As Shoshana Zuboff and others have argued, Google is the pioneer of surveillance capitalism. Without a fundamental invasion of privacy, there would have been no Google as the world-leading behemoth we know today.

But beyond Google’s intentions, there’s the question of its moves’ implications. Google had already said it would kill third-party cookies on Chrome. This week, it announced that it will not create an alternative that tracks users’ behavior across the Web in order to sell them personalized, individualized ads. The ad tech giant won’t invest in solutions that facilitate individual tracking and targeting, either.

The big question is what this portends for users and advertisers. Is it actually a boon to user privacy? Will it undermine digital advertising? Or will models like Google’s Federated Learning of Cohorts, which will allow targeting of groups of users with similar interests instead of targeting of individuals per se, fill the gaps?

Matt Woodruff, co-founder and chief product officer of ad tech SaaS provider and digital agency Constellation Agency, is relatively bullish on the privacy sea change.

Will Google’s changes hinder marketing?

Woodruff is not a believer in the widely touted ad tech claim that the shift from individual tracking to something like cohorts spells doom for digital marketing.

“The focus was never to hinder marketing, rather to fix the privacy issues that cookie-0based tracking cause,” Woodruff said.

“We’ll still be able to do behavioral targeting, but what happens in the backend will be different. It will use cohorts that live in a black box that are determined by machine learning. It’s all about hiding a user in the crowd, so to speak.”

Are there genuine privacy benefits?

“Yes. Right now, cookie data is stored in the user’s browser and as such, it’s fairly easy to access. With the new API-driven system called Federated Learning of Cohorts, your data will be stored in a ‘black box’ and anonymized in certain groups or cohorts.”

Others say “Advertisers and publishers are right to be wary” of FLoCs. Google has touted their efficacy, but advertisers do not yet know if they will work just as well as cookies and if they will advantage their designer.

“Distrust of Google is at an all-time high in the industry,” said Patrick O’Leary, founder and CEO of boostr. “The skeptics are probably wondering how Google will use FLoCs to stack the deck in their advantage for their digital marketplace offerings.”

What does this mean for ad tech?

Critics say Google and Apple’s new restrictions on tracking will make it harder for publishers to stay afloat selling ads. The moves could also put a crunch on companies, including small businesses, that rely on targeted digital ads to acquire customers.

Much of this impact hinges on just how effective solutions like FLoCs are at serving cohort-based ads in lieu of individualized ones.

Woodruff sees implications for hyperlocal advertising.

“I think there will be a bigger need for hyperlocal advertising as creative is going to become even more important, or rather hyper-localized creative is going to be important,” Woodruff said. “We want to ensure the ad matches each cohort as closely as possible.”

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018 and compiled the daily newsletter since 2016. Joe is a journalist who has written widely about technology, business, and politics. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.