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Life After Google

In thinking of what you use the internet for, chances are the first thing that pops up is the word Google. As Google announces the phasing out of third-party cookies, the insights industry is sure to face repercussions.

Google has announced it will be phasing out third-party cookies from Google Chrome according to a recent MediaPost article.  Chrome represents almost 70% of the desktop browser market and 40% of mobile. Safari, Firefox, and Microsoft have the rest, and many of them already include ad blockers, cookie-clearing, and other tools that hamper digital targeting.

No More Third-Party

Instead of the third-party approach, Google will now offer its own (proprietary) targeting methodology, using its own data, which means if you work at an ad-tech company not named Google (or Facebook or Amazon, for that matter) then your ability to deliver targeted ad messages is going to become increasingly limited. We are moving into a Google-centric advertising world. 

The MediaPost article suggested that most marketers will either choose to work with Google, or perhaps not worry about targeting at all, focusing on other levers, such as price, or allocate digital spend elsewhere (e.g. Outdoor, or paid Social).

In this scenario, Google’s targeting will become premium-priced, as it will (claim to) offer one of the only accurate ways to deliver a specific audience at scale. Outside of a Google environment, OTT and digital video ads may still have the opportunity to “target” based on data or context. Display (or Out-Of-Home) might suffer somewhat because a comparable performance will be harder to achieve – unless the measure becomes more accurate.  Paid social will be a channel where platform users data will still be able to be leveraged, although their track record in offering transparent assessments of reach and frequency is about as good as Google’s will become (not at all), and paid social will simply fatten the bank accounts of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  

What About Measurement?

But here’s the rub… If a third-party solution like the cookie is gone, third party (objective!) measurement is also gone; and any independent measure of value/efficiency will no longer be possible. Additionally, comparability with other media, across countries, or indeed across broadcasters/publishers will also disappear, as the Google measure (and e.g. the Paid social measures), will now be able to be manipulated by the channel owner, without any obligation for transparency.

This is the bitter pill that brand owners and advertisers will need to swallow…unless they all unite and insist upon maintaining independence and comparability in the measure(s).

Time to assess a new service or solution is limited, and so the comfort default will remain Google….unless advertisers recognize what they are being forced to accept!

The Effect on Insights

So, what does that mean for the industry?  Cookies are now really on their way out, and so is independent assessment. Advertisers, Planners, and Researchers beware! 

The fundamental driver in this scenario, however, is our tacit agreement to use these services, and thereby give the tech companies enormous power over “their” unique user base or franchise (i.e. us!).  

If Google knows everything you have ever searched for,. Facebook knows who your friends are, what you like and what you talk about online… and thus their power to “profile” and “target” consumers for advertising is unmatched.

But online data scandals have raised concerns about the power that information brings. Last July, Facebook received an unprecedented fine of $5Bn for the part it played in facilitating the (now infamous) misuse of data by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

A recent survey conducted by ESOMAR with the Support of HERE Technologies, supported by Buzzback and CINT, clearly showed increasing distrust for social media when it comes to protecting their privacy. Conversely, the study also showed an increasing disposition amongst citizens to share MORE data, if the data collector is open and transparent about their purpose.

The Lack of Consumer Trust

In this era of distrust, therefore, some see real opportunity; here are three services that have been around a while, but which were recently reviewed by the BBC:

DuckDuckGo registers around 50 million searches per day. It works similarly to Google but maintains a simple privacy policy of not storing or sharing personal information.  DuckDuckGo is free and makes its money through advertising, but the adverts it displays are not based on the user’s history or behavior. 

ProtonMail is an end-to-end encrypted mail service. Emails between ProtonMail accounts are automatically protected with end-to-end encryption, meaning the messages are only viewable by the sender and the recipient. It has become the world’s largest provider of encrypted email, with 20+ million users. ProtonMail is also free to use and makes its money by charging for upgrades and additional storage. The service has proven popular enough that it has spun out another service, ProtonVPN, which allows users to browse the internet securely and privately.

A similar free, secure browsing service, Brave blocks the tracking and profiling of users, protecting privacy and making browsing faster. Brave says it currently has 8.7 million monthly active users and 3 million active daily users.

Breaking the Habit

The challenge, however, is breaking habits. Google has become almost the default search engine worldwide and has even become a synonym for the verb “search”.  Equally, the scale of adoption is also very difficult to leave behind. But if we really are concerned about tacitly offering market dominance to a Tech player, or if we do care about the amount of personal information that is being profitably traded unbeknownst to us, then the most efficient way to combat those companies is to take away their “power” – i.e. their users.  

The less we use Google, the less dominant and effective they will be in the post-third-party cookie advertising world. The less we use Facebook, the less they will represent a huge sample source, or be able to manipulate voters, political tendencies and urban myths. The domination of these tech platforms is not based on a lack of education; rather it is facilitated by a certain degree of laziness (or comfort) amongst us as users, and by a lack of awareness of the extent to which they can (and do) manipulate and trade-in, our data.  The challenge is one of raising public awareness!

So, can there be life after Google?  Yes, if we care enough about it!

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