Google is developing an alternative to cookies that it says will track user behavior without compromising people’s privacy, reports Alistair Barr for USA TODAY. AdID would transmit certain types of information to organizations that have agreed to abide by a transparent set of guidelines, so that consumers could control what information is released.

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Google to talk with online advertising firms

The proposal has not been made public, and Google hasn’t commented on the idea, but an anonymous source told Barr that Google is in the process of talking to other online advertising firms and government organizations about the new method of tracking people online.

Cookies are a basic part of how the Internet currently functions—without them you wouldn’t be able to sign into your email or use any digital subscriptions—but third party cookies are controversial because they exist solely to track and monetize people’s habits. The more data that can be collected, the more valuable they are, putting privacy-minded users in an antagonistic position relative to advertisers.

It’s not clear how this basic dynamic would change with the introduction of AdID. Advertisers want to know everything about a person’s preferences so they can sell items more efficiently, and people want some degree of privacy. If Google’s initiative gives users too much control, then it won’t be useful for advertisers; if it gives users too little control, then you can expect to see AdID blockers just like people use cookie-blocking apps now.

Google has enormous sway

As the world’s largest search engine and online advertising company (it accounts for about a third of digital ad revenue), Google has enormous sway, and it could be hard for smaller companies to openly resist if it tries to force the use of AdID instead of cookies. However, black hat advertising tactics are already common. Many companies would probably just officially use AdID and unofficially use cookies and zombie cookies (which exploits Flash to track people who have turned off normal cookies).

As much influence as it has, Google probably won’t be able to end the privacy-data collection arms race, but that probably isn’t its aim in the first place. If AdID becomes an industry standard (even without supplanting cookies) it will further cement Google’s position in the online ad space.