Centralising User Tracking on the Web – Let Google Track Everyone For You

In The Curse of Our Time – Tracking, Tracking Everywhere, I noted how the likes of Google set up cookie matching services that allow advertisers to reconcile their cookies with Google’s:

The Cookie Matching Service enables a buyer to associate two kinds of data:

– the cookie that identifies a user within the buyer domain, and
– the doubleclick.net cookie that identifies the user for Google. (We share a buyer-specific encrypted Google User ID for buyers to match on.)

The data structure that the buyer uses to maintain these associations is called a Match Table. While the buyer is responsible for building and maintaining match tables, Google can host them.

With an RTB [real-time bidding] application, the buyer can bid on impressions where the user has a specific Google User ID, and can use information associated with the Google User ID as criteria in a bid for an ad impression.

But it seems that this isn’t enough for Google. It actually gets worse… A USA Today story suggests Google is exploring the idea of an AdID, an identifier that it would share with advertisers to uniquely identify eyeballs rather than them having to use a range of alternative third party user tracking services.

How AdID would actually work (if indeed it is ever comes to pass) is not explained, although a post on the AdExchanger blog – What The Google AdID Means For Ad Tech – comes up with possible mechanism: Google uniquely identifies users (presumably using cookies and authenticated user credentials (topped up with a little bit of browser fingerprinting, I wonder?)) then provides an advertiser with a hashed version of the ID. The hashed identifier means advertisers can’t share information with each other.

The Google AdID service seems like it would be offered as an alternative to tracking users using third party services that use their own third party cookies, with a user tracking system that offers more effective identity tracking techniques (such as a logged in Google user id). Which is to say, Google wants to replace third party cookie based tracking services with it’s own (logged in user + cookies + browser fingerprinting + etc etc) user tracking service? Or have I misinterpreted all this?

One AdID to rule them all, One AdID to find them,
One AdID to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Google where the Shadows lie.

PS by the by, I notice in a post on Author information in search results, that “If you want your authorship information to appear in search results for the content you create, you’ll need a Google+ Profile with a good, recognizable headshot as your profile photo. Then, verify authorship of your content by associating it with your profile using either of the methods below.” Ah ha… so you agree to give the Goog a good photo of yourself that it can use in it’s face matching algos, such as in the sort of thing that could be used to unlock your phone. Good. Not. Will faceID play a part of AdID, I wonder? With a gaze tracking feedback loop? Or maybe Google will be getting more into the tracked user, outside advertising market?

PPS This then also brings back to mind the face tracking approaches mentioned in The Curse of Our Time – Tracking, Tracking Everywhere

PPPS By the by, it seems the Culture, Media and Sport Committee have no problem with online targeted ads:

85. Inevitably public funding is under pressure, a point illustrated by cuts in the budget of Arts Council England.[161] Given the essential role of public funding in sustaining the wider creative economy, it is crucial that adequate resources are available. Of course, the private sector should be encouraged as much as possible to invest in the creative industries. One good example is provided by advertising, which not only provides a major source of funding but is a creative industry in its own right. Evidence from the Advertising Association points to advertising as “a major creative industry and a critical source of funding for other creative industries”. The Advertising Association’s evidence goes on to express deep concern about draft EU Data Protection Regulation “which could damage direct marketing, internet advertising, and the UK economy both off and online”.[162] Increasing use is being made of personal data to target online advertising better. While concerns around this have prompted reviews of data protection legislation, we do not think the targeting of appropriate advertising—essential to so many business models —represents the greatest threat to privacy. [original emphasis]

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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