September 27, 2013
To help marketers target ads to any device — smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops — Google is considering using “anonymous identifiers” to track people’s online browsing habits. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the technology could eventually supersede the controversial “cookies” that marketers now slip into our computers to track our movements on the Web and then pitch us related products. Problematic for the ad industry, cookies are inadequate trackers for smartphones and can be blocked on other devices.
Google reportedly said the anonymous identifiers would be good for user security and the economics of the Internet, but the possibility of their use alarms privacy advocates. Google already dominates online life, with the most popular browser, Chrome; the most pervasive mobile operating system, Android; and commanding positions in email and search. The company captures a third of the world’s $117 billion in digital ad spending, more than any competitor, according to research firm eMarketer.
Oxymoronically dubbed “anonymous identifiers,” the technology would in fact be “a super cookie,” and “the new way they identify you 24/7,” says Jeff Chester, head of the Center for Digital Democracy. Google’s services are designed to vacuum up information on consumer behavior. As the Journal reports, any new identifier the company creates will likely track consumers “more efficiently, more pervasively, and more exclusively to Google’s benefit.” — Greg Beaubien