Monday, February 17, 2014

Browser Cookies 2.0 - Google AdID - The Holy Grail of user information

Browser Cookies?!?!

Tania recently posted a blog entry explaining what web cookies are, how they work, and how to manage them.  At a basic level cookies allow information to be aggregated about you and your browsing habits.  This helps content providers (but mostly marketers) tailer a more relevant experience for users but also raises privacy and security concerns as these shadow profiles are enriched over time.

Google browser cookies - Google AdIDBrowser cookies come in two varieties, first party and third party. [1]  The first party variety are generally the more benign of the two and only aggregating data in the current site where you are visiting.  Third party cookies however, go where you go.  They can collect product preferences from Pinterest, employment information from LinkedIn, and just about anything else from social media.  This cocktail of information can be powerful for marketers and potentially dangerous in the wrong hands.

As users, we tend to leverage multiple browsers, tabs, and even platforms (phone, tablet, desktop, e-reader, gaming systems, etc) to facilitate our data and connectivity addictions.  This makes it more difficult for the third party cookies to get the "full" story.  Users can also block and delete cookies (see "Do Not Track").  These weaknesses have lead to companies like Google to create solutions to stitch some of these data holes together (like linking all your Crome profiles together, platform agnostic).

Holy Grail?!?!

intelligent third party cookie
It would be naive to think that companies would stop short of the 'Holy Grail' of user information. Google is already working on an alternative to cookies called AdID.  Essentially, the search giant is building an "anonymous identifier for advertising, or AdID, that would replace third-party cookies as the way advertisers track people's internet browsing activity for marketing purposes." [2]

Browser Cookies vs Google AdID - Source:

There are interesting implications of this development [3] but its important to note that the devil is in the details, all of which are speculative at this stage of development.

The Good:

  • The AdID is intended to be an anonymous
  • Ownership of the AdID is consolidated which can allow for better governance. This is a slight improvement over the smorgasbord of third parties tracking user traffic with almost no governance.
  • Users will theoretically be given tdiscretion over how much data (or which data) is aggregated
  • There might be a "private browsing option"

The Bad:

  • Although intended to be anonymous, it has a huge potential to be linked to something not anonymous like an email or G+ profile
  • Tracking is tracking. The information can be willingly sold, lawfully subpoenaed, or wrongfully stolen
  • If you are a company tracking users with cookies, future browsers like Crome, may auto-block (verses the current opt-in) cookies. Your only option will be to pay the big boys for that information.

The bottom line

Should we hate Google for doing this to us? It's hard to blame them for wanting to profit off the information that they serve us for free.  Besides; Microsoft, Apple, and FaceBook are in the game too. [4] Users need to take more ownership of their personal information and activities and choose when and how it can be used, otherwise, someone else will.


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