Google May Implement Anonymous Identifier to Replace Cookies

Google may change the way that online browsing activity is tracked by developing an anonymous identifier for advertising, or AdID. This identifier would essentially replace third-party cookies to track browsing information, which would then be used for marketing purposes. The identifier would be sent to advertisers and ad networks that agree to certain guidelines, while providing users with greater privacy and control over how they browse the Internet.

However, Google has not yet publicly announced the proposal.

“Technological enhancements can improve users’ security while ensuring the Web remains economically viable. We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they’re all at very early stages,” Google spokesman Rob Shilkin said.

Google’s moves will be closely watched by the ad industry, for Google is the leader in online advertising and its Chrome browser is now the most popular in the world.

“The cookie — a small line of text with an identification tag that is integrated into browsers — for years has been the staple way to recognize users when they visit websites. First-party cookies are placed on people’s computers by companies that run the websites, while third-party cookies are from other entities that collect data on browsing activity,” explains USA Today.

The ad industry uses this technology to track people’s interests and advertise to them more effectively. However, there are privacy concerns involved in this tracking.

Apple’s Safari has blocked third party cookies, and if Google did the same, it would give users more control over how they are tracked online. However, it could also place all the power into the hands of two large corporations.

“There could be concern in the industry about a system that shifts more of the benefits and control to operators like Google or Apple,” said Clark Fredricksen of eMarketer, which tracks the digital ad industry.

“Restricting third-party cookies isn’t going to make relevant advertising go away; it just hands more power to big companies,” said Zach Coelius, CEO of ad technology firm Triggit.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau at least wants some type of tracking device for advertisers, according to Mike Zaneis, the group’s general counsel. However, he admits that placing a majority of power in the hands of a few companies is not ideal.

“They could deprecate the use of that ID on a whim, basically, and severely undermine billions of dollars in digital ad spending,” Zaneis said.

“The IAB is battling with Mozilla, which announced a new policy earlier this year that blocks third-party cookies in its Firefox browser by default. Google’s proposal is not so drastic, because the company is developing its own AdID as an alternative tracking tool for advertisers,” reports USA Today.

The tool will allow users to limit how they are tracked online, and even reset the browser every year and create a second AdID for browsing sessions they want to keep particularly private. Advertisers will get access to the AdIDs as long as they abide by the proper terms, but users can still change the list of approved advertisers as they please.