Google Chrome shows updated privacy policy for ads, what does it mean

Chrome[German]As of September 5, 2023, Google has updated the Chrome browser for its platforms (desktop, Android, iOS) (see Google Chrome 116.0.5845.179/.180 security update). In addition to security fixes and stability improvements, users will suddenly see a pop up with privacy notice. In the pop up, people will be informed about changes that the browser can make regarding displayed ads and they can accept or reject them. This change is related to the fact that Google wants to eliminate ad tracking via third-party cookies in Chrome and replace it with other forms.


Privacy information for advertising

I've already been informed about the issue yesterday on Twitter, because a US user in Google Chrome was suddenly shown new privacy information. Will Dormann also addressed it on September 5 in this tweet.

New Chrome ad requests

This night I was then informed by the Google Chrome browser on Android in a series of overlays about innovations, which I could accept or reject. Blog reader Robert then sent me screenshots of his desktop browser earlier today that included the same thing (thanks for that). Under the title Enable an advertising privacy feature, the user is shown subsequent pages of information.

Chrome's ad privacy popup

Chrome: Datenschutz bei Werbung


There is a third popup page with further details. On each of the popups in question, the user receives information from Google and can accept or reject the suggestions. In addition, the pages contain links to Google pages with further explanations.

What is behind this approach?

Until now, advertising played in the browser was based primarily on the evaluation of visited websites. The information was stored on the user's device via third-party cookies. On the one hand, this meant that users were shown advertising on topics because they had once searched and visited websites for something in the browser, but the advertising was not interesting to people at all. The other side: users were tracked by advertisers via third-party cookies – this is the reason for the cookie banner flood in Europe, which requires active consent from surfers to store cookies.

Google had long announced plans to disable third-party cookies, which are set to track page visits by websites, in Google Chrome. Back in 2019, Google revealed plans to improve tracking protection for users of the Chrome browser. Then there was the FLOC approach, where Google wanted to make the use of advertising cookies privacy compliant with its own technology. However, the FLoC approach received huge critics from data protectionists and has been canceled.

Since that time, Google has been trying to find a way to block third-party cookies in its Chrome browser without cutting itself off from the advertising business. For this purpose, Google has launched a privacy sandbox initiative (Privacy Sandbox). The Topics API is described in this Google post. The goal is to replace third-party cookies as well as cross-page tracking, finger-printing and other covert techniques with more privacy-friendly alternatives. Instead of keeping the information about visited websites with advertisers, only the browser should have information about what the user wants to allow regarding advertising. Google had developed the technologies in question and released test versions in Chrome for developers. Problems arose, which is why the hard introduction was postponed to the third quarter of 2024 (see my blog post Google Chrome: Third-party cookie blocking postphoned to Q3 2024).

This is exactly the context in which I see the above pop-up notices of the new Google Chrome. Because there Google informs that they are introducing new privacy settings for advertising in the browser. The default, which can be changed by the user at any time in the settings under Privacy, allows the user to give the browser specifications as to which advertising topics are relevant at all and what should be used for display.

For this purpose, Chrome offers to analyze the history of visited websites over a period of four weeks and to infer interests from this. In addition, the user can configure the advertising topics that are relevant to him in the settings. If the user then visits websites, these can request the user's "interest categories" from the browser and play out appropriate advertising.

Compared to the previous user tracking through third-party cookies, there is now a fundamental change. The browser discards these third-party cookies and thus the tracking, and only provides advertisers with information about desired advertising categories. The advantages of this:

  • The approach leads to improved privacy when surfing the Internet, as only the browser is now aware of the websites visited and advertising interests.
  • The user's identity and current browsing history is protected from the websites visited, according to Google's statements.
  • The user can also personalize the displayed advertising themes, which can be viewed and deleted in the settings. In addition, advertising themes that are older than four weeks are automatically deleted again.

Google does, however, enable the user to measure the success of advertising, so that limited data relating to the performance of the ad may be transferred between the visited website and the advertiser. This includes, for example, that the advertisement was displayed and at what time of day this occurs.

What's the bottom line?

I see this as a helpful step by Google to move away from the user tracking by advertises used within the last few years to a new model where websites can fund themselves through advertising. Personally, I've been after my advertising provider for years to replace the previous advertising tracking with context-based advertising on viewed blog posts. Here, however, the industry has struggled because on the one hand the legal issues were still unclear, one wanted to rely on the changes by Google and the previous approaches were probably also modest in terms of monetization.

From my point of view, the Google Chrome approach offers even more advantages than pure contextual advertising, because the user can set advertising preferences away from the context of the visited web pages. This simply gives publishers a larger inventory of advertisers' ads to place on the ad spaces. From my perspective, it remains to be seen how the whole thing will now be implemented in practice.

Addendum: The Register has published now this article with further thoughts.

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