Google goes indie on tracking

In Google We Trust?

Google is in early-stage development for a proprietary advertising tracking system. This would replace traditional “cookie” coding, which is the long-standing method of tracking browsing behavior and ad interactions. USA Today appears to have broken the story, and WSJ and Entrepreneur, among others, have followed up on what is a paradigm-shifting threat to the $120 billion digital advertising universe.

An anonymous Googler was reported as saying a unique “AdID” would be attached to ad appearances across websites and other digital properties that carry Google ad coding. That’s a lot — Google operates the largest digital ad network on the planet.

If Google changes the industry-standard method of tracking behavior across its ad network, they stand to lock out the rest of the industry; at least for a time. Instead of one system of tracking to reveal intelligence and deliver the right ad to the right target at the right time, there would be two systems. Double the effort, and possibly incomparable results since Google has more data on some users than traditional cookies can provide.


Google is bent on innovation, and can up-end the ecosystem. If they can invent a better way to streamline ads with their target users, and serve the advertisers and ad agencies in the process, they should. However, the Internet Advertising Bureau has spent years — and surely blood, sweat and tears — getting everyone marching in the same direction to establish standards of measurement. This development could take years to vet within Google’s network, and it could put the IAB back to square one. It’s the price of technology and growth. And it’s a process. It could be a slog.

– Google could speed attrition in the advertising industry. For the last few years, agencies have been struggling to retain relevance — some fighting for their lives — as the buying process has been enabled through technology. The middleman needs to prove worth.

Publishers are feeling the squeeze as search gobbled up some traditional advertising, and now social ad networks are finding their ways. Just as the Internet’s mainstreaming in the 1990s led to print’s demise (or rise as a luxury media product, if you will), technology is changing the game for media who run advertising; the advertisers who supply those promotional messages and dear dollars; and the agencies who work as intermediaries.

Technology levels the field, and there will be casualties. Just one example of this is how ad sales people are getting nervous that the emergence of programmatic buying could endanger their roles in the buy-and-sell chain. It’s a very real threat, and the IAB recognizes it. But this is business. Google takes no prisoners.

Google says it cares about protecting your privacy, but they really mean privacy outside of the Google network. Meaning: They want to keep all your precious information to themselves; and their friends (those carrying their ad code).

googleprivacy image from ShutterstockDo we trust Google?

Probably about as much as we trust Facebook. For me, that’s not much. Yet I’m not concerned enough about the privacy issue to use Safari (auto-blocks cookies) or DuckDuckGo (a browser extension that blocks tracking), which has a great one-page site on the perils of tracking. Outlook and Firefox browsers offer settings to block cookies. If Google moves ahead, those browser settings will be ineffectual on Google ad network sites. (Chrome rules!)

EMarketer‘s Clark Fredricksen told USA Today, “There could be concern in the industry about a system that shifts more of the benefits and control to operators like Google or Apple.” Yet Verge says it best: “Google built. Google controlled.”

[In related news, the media purports that the Do Not Track initiative has fallen off the rails. Read ZDNet’s report here.]

– Google is the leading player in ad tech. They are the leader in digital advertising. They don’t care what you or the industry associations think. They will do what is in their interest. And, hey, if it benefits the user — great — but we can be assured that it will have to make business sense first. See, that’s what happens when you go public. While you must be driven to delight those you serve (in this case end users, publishers, advertisers) and those you work for (stock holders). You must produce business results. The stock price (GOOG) depends on business savvy, making hard decisions that may appear at odds with pleasing your end-users.

In the beginning, the “informal” motto of Google was, “Don’t be evil.” That is dependent on the context of a situation as anyone who has taken a college philosophy course knows. Nowhere in Google’s philosophy do those words appear, except in #6. You can do business without being evil.” The first sentence under that: “Google is a business.” Enough said.

My Take
As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” I like Google and its products. I’ve used them as a consumer, a publisher and an advertiser. I am optimistic that they are trying to create the best business for their stockholders and the best experience for all of us. Circumspection is necessary as they gallop toward monopolization.

It’s time I buy some GOOG…

Please share your thoughts.

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  1. Love the analysis. I am a non tech but high volume user of google. You ask critical questions about the ability of google to monopolize the digital ad space by setting up huge barriers to potential competitors and helped me understand their strategy.

    Abigail Huffman

  2. Thanks for your comment, Abigail. If the other players don’t up their games — Yahoo!, Bing, Facebook, etc. — Google may be facing future allegations of monopolization. The burden will be on them to prove they are adhering to privacy guidelines and that they haven’t shut out the competitive spirit of a free market. We shall see.

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