Google promises not to build itself privacy sandbox ‘backdoors,’ but advertisers are skeptical

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Google promised on Thursday it won’t carve out separate rules for itself as it forces data privacy restrictions on others navigating the impending death of third-party cookies in the company’s Chrome browser.

Google’s ads vp and gm Jerry Dischler pointed to the firm’s open-source Privacy Sandbox development effort during a virtual marketing event held on Thursday. The ad targeting and measurement methods — which include an automated targeting technique that has raised privacy concerns and even prompted an antitrust investigation by the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority — has also sparked speculation among ad tech companies and other industry players that worry Google will not use the techniques it is forcing others in the industry to use, which limit data use, targeting and measurement capabilities.

“We’ll be using these [Privacy Sandbox] APIs for our own ads and measurement products just like everyone else, and we will not build any backdoors for ourselves,” said Dischler. 

However, Google’s promise doesn’t address the elephant in the room: The company may not be opening a proverbial backdoor for itself, but it still owns the house. After third-party cookies stop working in its Chrome browser, Google has said it will allow itself to glean and use individual-level data from its owned-and-operated properties. But it has not said whether or not Chrome is considered an owned-and-operated property.

“The issue is not so much defining it as a backdoor,” said Amanda Martin, vp of enterprise partnerships at digital agency Goodway Group. “It’s defining what they consider owned-and-operated and their first-party data, and what [advertisers] consider owned-and operated and their first-party data,” she added. “Google’s ecosystem gets really gray because of all the pieces they own.”

Besides, Google could change its mind down the road, said digital ad consultant Ty Martin, founder of digital ad firm Ad Bacon. “Google is under continual pressure to drive better and better results, and those improvements have to come from somewhere. At some point in the future, in order to drive that growth that’s required, they may have to revisit areas of opportunity that up until now have been considered off-limits.”

Dischler, during the event, also reaffirmed Google’s stance against identity tech used for tracking individual people for ad targeting and measurement. “Third-party cookies and other proposed identifiers that some in the industry are advocating for do not meet the rising expectations consumers have when it comes to privacy. They will not stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions; they simply cannot be relied on in the long term,” he said.

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