Google Lays Groundwork for Cross-Device Ads

Google ignited an uproar when it changed its privacy policy to be able to combine data across services. Now, it appears to be making moves that would position it to deliver ads linking desktop behavior with mobile use, and vice versa.

Yesterday Google launched a version of its Chrome Web browser for Android devices, which could provide it with a goldmine of extremely granular user data. As a post on Google’s mobile blog yesterday pointed out, the new browser now invites users to sign in to the software itself using their Google account. Doing so will then synchronize data across both their desktop and mobile devices or, as Google puts it, allow users to “take their personalized Web browsing experience with them wherever they go.”

A big part of that personalized user experience as far as Google is concerned is, of course, advertising. In a blog post unveiling the company’s new privacy practices late last month, it said it can do “cool things” when it combines information across its products. “We can make search better — figuring out what you really mean when you type in Apple, Jaguar or Pink. We can provide more relevant ads too. For example, it’s January, but maybe you’re not a gym person, so fitness ads aren’t that useful to you,” wrote director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten.

You can imagine it would also mean that when consumers signal some kind of intent via the desktop, related ads could appear when they are using a mobile device. That would be very powerful to marketers, particularly combined with location technology. What retailer wouldn’t want to show an ad to someone known as a shopper when that person is nearby a store?

Though Google hasn’t made clear what data from the Chrome for Android app will be used for ad purposes specifically, the permissions information for the software suggests it’ll have access to some very rich information.

Users that install the software are granting it the ability to “read sensitive log data,” which includes information about the use of their device, as well as their “personal or private information.” In addition, it tracks “all URLs the browser has visited and all of the browser’s bookmarks,” Google’s disclosure said, alongside location information and NFC data, when available.

That type of data could prove extremely valuable for advertisers, and extremely lucrative for Google’s advertising business, particularly on the mobile side. Owing to a lack of cookies on mobile devices, it’s been extremely difficult for advertisers to track the effectiveness of mobile ad campaigns.

Access to browser-level mobile behavioral data could, however, close that gap. For example, if users are served a desktop display ad on YouTube and later visits the advertiser’s site on their Android device, some credit can be assigned to the initial impression.

Google might not be using that data for much yet, but it’s laying the foundations for what looks like a pretty powerful advertiser offering.