Google will stop tracking you for ads… but there’s a catch

Google says it will stop selling ads based on individual browsing history.


March 9, 2021

“OK, now take the exact same photo but from a slightly more artistic angle” (Source: Getty Images / David Paul Morris)

Google announced last week that it will stop selling ads based on tracked individual browsing history (cookies).

But it’s likely not an instance of the company adhering to its former unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil.”

As Y Combinator’s Paul Graham notes, it’s more likely that Google simply found a more effective way to target ads that’s less prone to regulation.

So, what juicy data is Google using now?

Google says it has been developing a privacy sandbox (an isolated environment where code can be tested) to target ads without collecting user data from various sites.

Instead, machine learning will categorize users into groups or cohorts with thousands of other people with similar interests. In layman’s terms, this just means they’re following a more amorphous, blobby version of you.

This sounds great on the surface… but there’s a catch

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) pointed out a year ago that Google’s plans for a privacy sandbox may be less positive than they appear to be.

“Today, trackers follow you around the web, skulking in the digital shadows in order to guess at what kind of person you might be,” writes the EFF. “In Google’s future, they will sit back, relax, and let your browser do the work for them.”

Google gets to keep Googling, while organizations without Google’s data (read: everyone but Google) will have to find new ways to target ads.

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