Google Working on Cookie-less Tracking Technology?

Google Working on Cookie-less Tracking Technology?

1st October 2013

Two weeks ago USA Today reported that Google is allegedly working on a new online user tracking technology it calls AdID, which does not depend on cookies any more.

According to an anonymous source quoted by USA Today, this AdID technology “would be transmitted to advertisers and ad networks that have agreed to basic guidelines, giving consumers more privacy and control over how they browse the Web, the person said, on condition of anonymity.”

Cookies were first introduced in 1995 as a way to facilitate ecommerce, as there needed to be a way to store shopping cart information in a user’s browser. Since then cookies have been a pervasive presence on the world wide web, seeing use in a wide variety of scenarios from ecommerce to web analytics and personalised content.

In recent years however there has been a backlash against cookies, as many see them as invasive and anti-privacy. As a result legislation has been passed in the EU restricting the use of cookies.

The newest versions of browsers like IE, Firefox, and Safari are defaulting to ‘do not track’ settings, with Google’s Chrome currently the only major exception. The latter is unsurprising, considering how advertising is Google’s core business, and the company relies heavily on ad tracking cookies to serve targeted advertising to consumers.

It therefore seems prudent for Google to invest in a new tracking technology that no longer relies on cookies. That way the company can ensure its advertising business – responsible for 97% of its income – remains intact, despite best efforts from regulators and competitors to hinder the efficacy of online tracking for advertising purposes.

Google has not confirmed the USA Today report, but it did allude to efforts to develop a next-gen tracking technology:

“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.”

With the growing concerns about advertising tracking cookies, and the widespread adoption of ‘do not track’ settings in browsers, a post-cookie tracking system sounds like a welcome development for advertisers as well as web analysts wanting to gain insight in to online consumer behaviour.

Yet a proprietary tracking technology owned by a single company has a substantial drawback. Should AdID become a new de-facto standard on the web, advertisers would in a way become servile to Google’s whims.

Currently the cookie technology is a standard defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force, which is part of ISOC – a non-profit organization “dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of people throughout the world.”

Ideally a next-gen cookie-less tracking technology would be an open standard as well, based on consensual agreement from a trusted international organisation like ISOC or the W3C, and not founded on commercial principles that benefit a single company.

In a piece written for AdAge, the world’s biggest ad agency WPP says:

“… anyone adopting Google’s system would have to bend to whatever terms Google sets in how that technology and the information it surfaces can be used. In this scenario, Google rises from being the biggest card player at the table to owning the casino — with advertisers using its chips.”

And as everyone knows, in the world of casinos the house always wins.


Written By
Barry Adams is the chief editor of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.
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