29 votes

Google to stop selling ads based on your specific web browsing

19 comments

  1. [8]
    Greg
    Link
    For all the data and advanced tech Google have (and it's a lot, on both counts), I've always been surprised how bad most of the ads I see are. I get that it's all a game of large numbers, and that...

    For all the data and advanced tech Google have (and it's a lot, on both counts), I've always been surprised how bad most of the ads I see are. I get that it's all a game of large numbers, and that relatively ad-resistant users like the majority of us here on Tildes are probably consigned to the "not worth the effort" bucket, but there's a lot of stuff out there that I'd still genuinely like to buy!

    Advertising isn't inherently bad - I voluntarily read food blogs, game reviews, hardware news, etc. There's a ton of stuff there that's relevant to my personal life and my work, and there are businesses opening all the time that I'd be interested to know about.

    Instead I get a mix of things I'll never buy, things I already bought, and things that I clicked on once to read a description and then had follow me around the internet for the next month. I get recommended articles giving me a rundown of mediocre food delivery options in a town I've never been to, 200 miles away from where I've been sitting in lockdown for the last year. I get products that aren't even available to buy on the same continent as me.

    It's like that machine in The Hitchhiker's Guide that performs an incredibly detailed and astonishingly advanced scan of the user's physiology, psychology, preferences, and nutritional needs - and then throws it all away and gives every single person the same cup of liquid that's almost, but not entirely, unlike tea.

    Google has our emails, photos, payment history, search history, browsing data, location, daily routine, and god knows what else. It's a terrifying amount of data. And the best they can do is the same three ads on YouTube? Amazon runs an appreciable portion of global commerce, but thinks that people who bought a toilet seat are clearly beginning a new toilet seat collecting hobby, and should be presented with a range of new ones to consider every time they come back to the site. Bloomberg, fucking Bloomberg, have recently added Taboola to their site, just in case I wanted to follow up some relatively detailed market analysis with a visit to an incredibly obvious scam blog article about putting an onion in my sock to draw out toxins. Not an exaggeration, that's the top "recommended" item I've had on the last three Bloomberg articles I've read.

    This has absolutely become a rant, and honestly I didn't really intend it to when I started. I know the companies with the data are just middlemen for the advertisers. I know it's a huge, staggeringly complex, incredibly lucrative industry that I don't even scratch the surface of understanding. But Jesus fuck, just be better.

    23 votes
    1. [3]
      rogue_cricket
      Link Parent
      I read an article a while ago that argued that the more intrusive tracking ads are actually less effective than just showing ads based on what the user is actively viewing. I believe DuckDuckGo...

      For all the data and advanced tech Google have (and it's a lot, on both counts), I've always been surprised how bad most of the ads I see are.

      I read an article a while ago that argued that the more intrusive tracking ads are actually less effective than just showing ads based on what the user is actively viewing. I believe DuckDuckGo uses this method of showing you ads based on your searches, not your information - it's the internet equivalent to buying the right ad-slot on the right network to reach your target audience.

      Honestly, even if there is a benefit, I'm really skeptical that it's just so super-effective, so paradigm-shifting, that it's worth an entire massive industry based around extracting as much information about you as possible. And like you said, they're not even that good at using it, or the advertisers don't even take advantage! I feel like the people who have managed to convince others that this is the future of advertising are justifying their own jobs more than anything.

      As a side note, another thing of Google's that I'm also surprised is so bad given their data is YouTube recommendations. Often I find myself clicking away from YouTube because absolutely none of the recommendations look interesting to me. They've created a really obvious filter bubble and it makes the service actively worse.

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        DataWraith
        Link Parent
        This is just an anecdote, but for me the YouTube recommendations used to be pretty good -- until I went ahead and set it to auto-delete the watch history after three months. You'd think three...

        As a side note, another thing of Google's that I'm also surprised is so bad given their data is YouTube recommendations.

        This is just an anecdote, but for me the YouTube recommendations used to be pretty good -- until I went ahead and set it to auto-delete the watch history after three months. You'd think three months are enough data to go on, but now all they suggest is (very) old videos from my subscriptions, most of which I've already seen...

        This also makes me wonder if @Greg has irrelevant ads maybe because he opted out of personalized advertising (which is somewhere in the Google Account settings). I can't really tell whether the setting does anything because I use an adblocker anyway, but it might be one of the reasons for the bad ads if that is the case.

        2 votes
        1. Greg
          Link Parent
          I just checked, and surprisingly that's not it - personalisation still turned on with Google. I think a lot of it comes down to what @mat said about advertisers not taking advantage of what's...

          I just checked, and surprisingly that's not it - personalisation still turned on with Google. I think a lot of it comes down to what @mat said about advertisers not taking advantage of what's available, although it obviously doesn't explain everything.

          I probably wouldn't have even gone off on that whole diatribe if it hadn't been for Bloomberg, which is more a question of not tailoring to the very broad readership of the site - that onion was the straw that broke the camel's back.

    2. elcuello
      Link Parent
      I agree with you but I gotta say my Instagram adds are scary good these days. It's not offering quality products at all and the rip off/scam pages are incomprehensibly all over (how are they so...

      For all the data and advanced tech Google have (and it's a lot, on both counts), I've always been surprised how bad most of the ads I see are. I get that it's all a game of large numbers, and that relatively ad-resistant users like the majority of us here on Tildes are probably consigned to the "not worth the effort" bucket, but there's a lot of stuff out there that I'd still genuinely like to buy!

      I agree with you but I gotta say my Instagram adds are scary good these days. It's not offering quality products at all and the rip off/scam pages are incomprehensibly all over (how are they so prevalent?) but god damn don't the tick my curiosity and fit my interests. Some upside to the high percentage of scam sites advertised is that I don't trust ANY ad on Instagram so I'm not buying anything.

      4 votes
    3. [3]
      mat
      Link Parent
      The thing is, it's rarely Google's fault you get crappy adverts. It's the advertisers. Google (and FB and Insta and and and) provide extremely granular targetting tools to buyers and used right,...

      The thing is, it's rarely Google's fault you get crappy adverts. It's the advertisers. Google (and FB and Insta and and and) provide extremely granular targetting tools to buyers and used right, those tools let us reach almost exactly who we want to reach. The key words there are "used right", because so many buyers just don't target well. It's hard to do right and many people just don't bother. Much easier to just say "men aged 18-40" and hit go and move on to the next job than spend time constructing a complex query to get your ad in front of the precise eyes you want to see it. Google want you to see relevant ads, because they want your clicks and they want their ad service to be perceived as high quality.

      Another reason is that the advertiser is targetting you in a way you don't think is right, but actually is. It's like those Wish ads for incredibly weird products that crop on on the rare occasions I load Facebook without an ad-blocker. They're not there to actually sell me that product, they're there to get the idea that I can buy anything at Wish into my head. Then at some point later when I'm thinking about buying a thing, I might go there rather than somewhere else.

      The location specific stuff is down to a crappy geotargetting. GeoIP thinks I'm in Slough, I've never been to Slough. But my ISP's IP range is registered as being there. To be honest that degree of location accuracy shouldn't be done via IP address, again it's a mistake by the advertisers. Google knows my address to within metres (although, like all the data they hold, they don't release that info to advertisers) so their system can target better on location, and usually does.

      Finally, if you prefer to do stuff like block tracking, clear cookies, not use Chrome and so on - targetting you by traditional routes becomes harder. So you end up getting the broad-spectrum default ads, which are usually very generic. Instead of knowing you're a 37 year old dude in the west midlands who likes black metal, kittens and lawnmowers - in which case you might get an advert for an awesome brutal lawnmower - the system can only see you're a person in the UK, so you get an advert for a lint remover.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        joelthelion
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Do they offer an "autotarget" option? It seems Google could do a much better job than most of their clients figuring out who to show ads to. Especially if they can't be bothered to invest time...

        Do they offer an "autotarget" option? It seems Google could do a much better job than most of their clients figuring out who to show ads to. Especially if they can't be bothered to invest time doing fine-grained targeting.

        Note that none of what you said explains the "Amazon toilet seat collection hobby" thing. That really boggles my mind.

        2 votes
        1. mat
          Link Parent
          That's actually a really interesting idea and I would be amazed if someone wasn't working on something like that. Google know a lot about who I am and what I buy, it seems obvious that an...

          That's actually a really interesting idea and I would be amazed if someone wasn't working on something like that. Google know a lot about who I am and what I buy, it seems obvious that an advertiser should be able to say "I'm selling headphones" and have the system do the rest.

          Totally agree on Amazon's thing btw. I'm sure they've put a great deal of effort into their recommendation system but it does seem to be weirdly shit. I don't know why trying to get you to buy multiple toilet seats is a thing but it's been happening so long it can't possibly be by accident. I have exactly no wish to buy different coloured versions of the tools I bought last week but Amazon is still recommending that exact thing to me as of right now. But it must work on some level otherwise they wouldn't do it.

          2 votes
  2. [2]
    nothis
    Link
    Wait, what? Am I missing something? If this means what I think it means, it would be about the biggest move in online privacy in like a decade. It's also a sign that threats of stricter...

    Wait, what? Am I missing something?

    If this means what I think it means, it would be about the biggest move in online privacy in like a decade. It's also a sign that threats of stricter legislation alone can change things. I bet this is basically Google anticipating EU law in 2025 or something.

    10 votes
    1. Macha
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      The business play is that they've been working on chrome features like FLoC and privacy sandbox which limit the ability of traditional third party tracking to work. At the same time, they've got a...

      The business play is that they've been working on chrome features like FLoC and privacy sandbox which limit the ability of traditional third party tracking to work. At the same time, they've got a lot of logged in users from just gmail and youtube alone, so they have a lot of personal data even without the internet tracking. (This is why the likes of Google and others started pushing for much more logins when GDPR, CCPA, etc. and technical measures like Safari's ITP or Firefox's ETP started hitting the effectiveness of third party cookies).

      Additionally, floc basically works by the browser forming groups of related users based on the sites visit. If you have a better ML implementation you can run your ads more effectively against them than your competitors. So the business argument comes down to:

      1. The writing is on the wall for the way advertising works today, between legislation like GDPR/CCPA and technical changes like Apple's or Mozilla's.
      2. Even though Google is both the majority web browser platform and majority mobile platform, Apple being seen as having a better privacy track record is already a factor in losing users, and they're worried that will extend to web browsers too if they don't implement similar technical changes eventually.
      3. Google can wipe out a lot of the smaller competitors from web advertising and android advertising who won't be able to provide ML targeting as effectively. The Facebooks and other major players will be able to adapt, and probably many of the B players too, but who knows about the C players like AdColony or whoever. You can pretty much look at the people signing on to TheTradeDesk's unified ID as the people who think they won't be able to adapt.
      4. Google gets praise for a more private approach that doesn't impact them as much as other people, due to their confidence in providing better ML targeting and more logged in user base.

      Don't get me wrong, this is an improvement in privacy over the status quo but it is neither totally private or done out of altruism on Google's part.

      11 votes
  3. Wes
    Link
    This move is as shocking as it is obvious. Google have lost a lot of mindshare over the years primarily over this issue. People interpret any connection to a Google server as "tracking" these days...

    This move is as shocking as it is obvious. Google have lost a lot of mindshare over the years primarily over this issue. People interpret any connection to a Google server as "tracking" these days even if it's something completely innocuous. It's going to be hard for them to shake that reputation, but this seems a good start.

    I'm going to be very curious to see what effect this has on Google's financials next year. For years they've been saying that targeted ads increase clicks and improve advertiser's yields. I've felt that it might be true, but it might also be overstated. I'm looking forward to seeing how that pans out in reality.

    I'm sure the ads will still be somewhat targeted, of course. But by Google searches, Youtube history, Google Now interest topics, etc. It's a more direct relationship, which I see as less onerous, at least.

    Full disclosure: I was only able to read the first half of the article, and Outline doesn't work. Looking for another source to make sure I'm not missing anything critical.

    9 votes
  4. skybrian
    Link
    A more technical document describing the goals of the Chrome project: The Privacy Sandbox

    A more technical document describing the goals of the Chrome project:

    The Privacy Sandbox

    Since third party cookies have been a part of the web since before its commercial coming of age in the 90s, critical functionality that the web has come to rely on (e.g., single sign-on, and personalized ads) has been developed assuming that functionality exists. In order to transition the web to a more privacy respecting default, it is incumbent upon us to replace that functionality as best we can with privacy-conscious methods.

    In the ideal end state, from a user’s perspective, there won’t be any difference between how the web of today and the web in a post-Privacy Sandbox world work, except that they will be able to feel confident that the browser is working on their behalf to protect their privacy and when they ask questions about how things work they will like the answers they find. In addition, if a given user is either uncomfortable with or just doesn’t like personalized advertising, they will have the ability to turn it off without any degradation of their experience on the web.

    3 votes
  5. Shahriar
    Link
    Unfortunately behind a paywall.

    Unfortunately behind a paywall.

  6. [3]
    ImmobileVoyager
    Link
    Does that mean no more adservice.google.com ? No ajax.googleapis.com, no www.google-analytics.com ? The end of fonts.google.com ? I've lost count and track of the numerous subterfuges that...

    Does that mean no more adservice.google.com ? No ajax.googleapis.com, no www.google-analytics.com ? The end of fonts.google.com ? I've lost count and track of the numerous subterfuges that Alphabet, Inc. deploys to accrue the User Profile Information that they keep on each and every webizen and that constitutes the sole revenue source of this exponentially growing giant corporation. They may be jettison a bit of it and then spin a fat lot of happy talk about it, but there is no way that there would be any semblance of remote truth in that clicky-whory title.

    1. [2]
      Wes
      Link Parent
      With the obvious exception of adservice, those domains aren't really relevant here. ajax belongs to Google's Hosted Libraries, and and fonts is a font CDN and webapp. Both strip referring...

      With the obvious exception of adservice, those domains aren't really relevant here. ajax belongs to Google's Hosted Libraries, and and fonts is a font CDN and webapp. Both strip referring information and only log requests generally for statistics (some of which they publish).

      Analytics is a separate product employed by site owners. Information isn't cross-pollinated except in one situation I can think of, which is the opt-in enhanced remarketing tool. As a user, you can disable this by opting-out of Ads Personalization.

      1 vote
      1. ImmobileVoyager
        Link Parent
        Those domains are very relevant here. Why else would Alphabet, Inc. provide them ? How does fingerprinting works ? What propels the NASDAQ ? What do shareholders want ? Who is Sheryl Sandberg ?...

        Those domains are very relevant here. Why else would Alphabet, Inc. provide them ? How does fingerprinting works ? What propels the NASDAQ ? What do shareholders want ? Who is Sheryl Sandberg ?

        See also Generating user information for use in targeted advertising, United States Patent application 20050131762, and similar.