Dear Google…I have a Suggestion!

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Dear Google,   

It’s not easy being the market leader.  No matter what you do, you wind up as everybody’s villain du jour. So, in January, when the timetable for phasing out the cookie was announced, you couldn’t have been surprised when your initiative to work with the AdTech community to “maintain an ad-supported web” was widely dismissed as an anti-trust smokescreen.  

However, if members of the community put aside their skepticism for a moment, they might see that in the end, we are all on the same page. Really. It should be about improving the user experience of internet browsing and user privacy while preserving an ad-supported internet.  

Let’s chat…

Google has set itself a challenging and thankless task. Finding the balance between preserving a viable ad-supported ecosystem of content providers and advertisers and empowering consumers and protecting their privacy is not for the faint of heart.  

Many players in the AdTech and MarTech world disrupted by the proposed Chrome changes view Google’s efforts to restructure the display Advertising ecosystem as either disingenuous posturing or a lost cause. I am inclined to give Google the benefit of the doubt. Yes, the shift away from cookies does benefit Google in many ways but some of the proposed new approaches have a lot of merits. 

Read more: A New Cookie-Less ID?

Let’ face it, the pixel has to have made anybody’s list of the strangest, ugliest technical improvisations on which to have built a $100B global industry. So, from many standpoints, hasta la vista, cookie. No great loss.  

Google’s proposed device-centered, distributed process for storing data and determining ad assignments is consistent with the natural evolution of the internet. Centralized pools of data made sense in 2001, but in 2021 it is probably time to move the apparatus of allocation to the edge of the network. Techniques that would store user data in the browser, using Blockchain, for example, is a sensible idea.

As an industry, we are guilty of the pile on. We have piled too much information into our tiny pixels, overlaying sophisticated demographics, location history, psychographics, purchase history, and the list goes on. Every weapon in the data arsenal is packed in to get the maximum value out of our digital identifier.

Yet we defend ad targeting based on data as a path to a more ‘relevant’ user experience. The claim just doesn’t hold up, when so much information extraneous to the experience gets loaded into the decisioning process. 

One of the more thoughtful ideas bubbling up from the Google-led rethink is the primary role that Google’s Chrome crew has assigned to ‘interest data’ as a way of allocating access to users among advertisers. I would go as far as to say that this is a foundational and bridging element between the user control world that is sought and the commercial ad-supported environment that will help keep content free. 

There has certainly never been a better tool for uncovering the interests of humanity, collectively and individually, than the Web. The avalanche of content, and the resulting reallocation of human time and attention online, that we have witnessed over the last twenty-five years is unprecedented and arguably the signature event of our age.  

Our browsing signals what interests us, individually and collectively. Given the obvious function of the internet, as a means for people to access knowledge and experiences that relate to their interests, it is fairly intuitive that, for the experience to work better, we could establish methods that would aid users in discovering and gaining access to what will interest them, based on some understanding of what has drawn their attention in the past.     

So, it’s not surprising to find that, in Google’s first draft of the new and improved cookie-less browser, ‘interest data’, alone among the various strains of data now in wide use via cookies, features prominently.  

Data Science has evolved to the point that it should be practical to infer from relatively small samples of user behavior a wide array of probable interests that can reliably govern the building of audiences and the selection of content, based on data that never leaves the so-called Privacy Sandbox.  

I do believe that pushing the industry to expand user control while preserving pathways for commercial activity is a necessity. However, it is going to take our collective village to come together, including participation in the Sandbox conversation.  

So, OK Google, we’ll give it a shot. Let’s build a better browser experience, including ads that match what users care about.

Read more: Why the Death of Cookies Means Profit for Google

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