Google is gearing up to tackle tracking tech. How will that affect small businesses?
During the recent Google I/O conference, the search giant announced two measures to protect the privacy of Chrome users. The first relates to the use of cross-site cookies while the second tackles a comparatively new form of tracking known as browser fingerprinting.
The changes could limit the effectiveness of remarketing and intent-based marketing campaigns.
The end of the line for cross-site cookies?
Cross-site cookies are small data files that are downloaded to your browser when you visit a website and read by a different website you later visit, often for the purpose of serving personalized ads. If you have ever run a remarketing or intent-based advertising campaign, it is cross-site cookies which have enabled you to monitor visitor behaviours and discover their interests.
Despite its own promotion of cross-site marketing and retargeting, Google have decided to give Chrome users the power to decide whether they want to play or not. Up until now, Google have given anyone with a Google account the option to opt out of personalized ads it controls (whether on Google properties or via Google partners). However, they will soon be giving them the option to block cross-site cookies altogether while allowing single site cookies to function normally. Single site cookies are generally used to preserve user settings and avoid visitors to a site having to log in every time they visit a different page.
In addition, Google will be creating a system which forces third parties to disclose their identity when they are using cross-site cookies. With Chrome enjoying a 60% market share, the changes are likely to have a huge impact on digital marketing strategies. It is unlikely that cross-site marketing and ad personalization will stop completely but it could slow things down a bit. Whether this is a good thing or not will depend on whether you currently benefit from remarketing or intent-based marketing and which side of the fence you are on regarding privacy protection.
Browser fingerprinting: stealth tracking tactics
While most web users are at least partially clued up on how cookies are used, there is a far more insidious form of tracking that is worrying privacy campaigners: browser fingerprinting.
Rather than placing software on your device to actively track your movements, browser fingerprinting works by reading the information your device and its services are continually sending out. Some of this info incudes the browser you are using and its version, your operating system, active plugins, time zone, language and settings.
There is even a type of fingerprinting which uses a function of HTML5 code to tell your browser to draw an image. It can then distinguish between different devices based on subtle differences in how that image is rendered. So-called 'canvas fingerprinting' has been used by the White House and is a tactic employed by AddThis, a popular content sharing platform.
The combination of signals detected results in a digital profile which is shared by, on average, only one in every 1,286,777 web visitors (hence the term fingerprint. While taking extreme measures like using a private network and an anonymous browser (e.g. Tor) can thwart most kinds of browser fingerprinting, Google have announced they will be aggressively pursuing ways to disrupt this tactic although they have not revealed any details yet.
Most small businesses will never have heard of browser fingerprinting, let alone be actively using it. However, it is worth being aware of its existence and to know that Google will be clamping down on hidden tracking methods in the near future.