Google has doubled down on privacy and transparency efforts at its 2019 I/O Developers Conference with a few announcements that should substantially diminish concerns about advertising practices and data collection. The most prevalent of those is the unveiling of a new browser extension that the search giant says will highlight information about companies that are involved in the ‘ad process’ from the advertiser to the publisher and every known entity in between.
The list of participants in the creation and distribution of ads will also include a showcase of the various factors that resulted in the advertisement being shown to the user themselves. The latter information, according to Google, will tie neatly into existing controls and dashboard for users to see what ad data is currently stored and used by Google.
Better still, users will also be able to see which companies are using ad trackers to capture their activity after viewing or clicking an ad.
At least initially, the new tool will only show information for the ads that Google shows on its own services and those displayed from its publishing partners when it launches over the ‘coming months’. The company will be building out additional APIs in the interim to get other entities behind the ads involved.
Tools will also be built out that allow researchers and anybody else who’s interested to analyze and access aggregated, anonymized data from Google and other providers, expanding the use of that data into the public sphere. That way, it isn’t just users who can see information about the advertisements being used online.
What’s in the cookies?
Google’s new ad transparency extension doesn’t represent the only big news for transparency and privacy at this year’s I/O event either. The way Chrome handles cookies and how users can control those is something that’s being reworked too, with those alterations rolling out this year.
Once in place, the improvement will start with developers, effectively forcing them to specify which cookies are allowed to access information across sites — potentially tracking end users. Using that information, Google will be building out tools across the same timeframe that let users clear out cookies that don’t stick to a single domain atop providing users with information about which cookies are doing what.
The move will ultimately give users the ability to take back control over how websites access their data, what data can be used, and where. As a result, not only will users feel safer, they’ll potentially be able to protect themselves against a variety of cyber attacks and malicious activity that cookies can enable without breaking down useful aspects of cookies that keep logins, settings, and other save states active.
If prior leaks bear out, that will all be accessible in a way that’s similar to other account and activity controls currently displayed via the interactive dashboards in a user’s account settings in Chrome.
Helping Everybody avoid future trouble?
The changes coming from Google, at first glance, may seem like they would best serve the company itself. That’s particularly true in light of the fact that most of the search giant’s trouble both legally and in terms of public perception has stemmed from its privacy policies and data collection practices.
The ad transparency extension planned by Google for Chrome isn’t just coming to the company’s own browser though, so that initial impression may actually be incorrect. More directly, the extension will be “open-source” and will “work across different browsers,” according to Google.
Users won’t be forced to Chrome to take advantage of it and a similar functionality could eventually find its way into the framework of browsers everywhere instead of just in the form of an extension. So, although the move will support Google’s ongoing push to improve and avoid hefty fines or legislative action, it will arguably benefit a multitude of users to a greater degree than it will help the search giant itself.