The days of Google selling users’ browsing history is soon to be over, the Alphabet company officially announced last week.
Users’ browsing data is currently tracked and sold to advertisers. This is the reason why your search on Walmart’s website for sneakers, for instance, will soon bring about countless ads on other platforms for similar types of sneakers that can spur an eerie, omnipresent feeling that technology is always watching. (Though you’d also be statistically more likely to buy sneakers.)
Google’s move marks a continuing shift in the digital advertising space that local startups like Durham’s Kevel and the Durham-based marketing consulting agency Method Savvy are grappling with in their own ways.
Method Savvy CEO Jake Finkelstein said the announcement doubles down on consumer privacy—part of a larger trend—while making dominant players even more dominant as partners that advertisers will have to rely on to understand how best to target potential customers.
“I think you are going to see some frustration from brands in terms of how they’re understanding the value of their advertisements and what the return on investment is,” Finkelstein said.
Marketers will have to better understand and service their customers, becoming more customer-centric, something they should be doing anyway, Finkelstein said.
James Avery, the Founder and CEO of Kevel (formerly Adzerk), always expected Google to make this move. He anticipates it will force more companies to build their own ad platforms—hopefully using Kevel to do so.
“For us, it’s actually a really good thing because our view of the world is that more companies should build what Google has built,” Avery said, “not rely on Google as their source of revenue.”
Still, he knows it will potentially hurt the companies that were relying on revenue from Google each month.
Google isn’t the only one making changes in data transparency.
Apple has also announced that beginning in early spring, the company will start its app tracking transparency feature, which requires app developers to ask for permission from users to track their browsing data and share this information for ad targeting across platforms.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has heavily criticized this decision, as he says it will put Facebook specifically at a disadvantage. To which Apple would likely reply: Too bad.
These changes are part of an ongoing trend as consumer privacy takes on a greater value for corporations, Finkelstein said.
The digital ad space will become less consolidated and push companies that were reliant on third-party data to change, in what Avery also considers beneficial progress for Internet privacy.
“In the future, if you want to keep generating the same amount of revenue,” Avery said, “you’re going to have to invest more in ‘How do I learn more about my user?’”
Method Savvy has already started changing its recommendations to customers based on these moving trends. This is something that has felt inevitable for Google, Finkelstein said. While this is a risk for those using third-party data, Finkelstein said there are plenty of ways to adapt.
So at the end of the day, Finkelstein said, he is an optimist. Over the last 20 years, the Internet has become more and more prevalent, and with this prevalence, we have lost more and more privacy. Google and Apple’s recent decisions highlight efforts to fix that.
“As the saying goes, if you’re not paying for something, you are the product,” Finkelstein said. “And I think there’s increasing awareness of that.”