Google's ad privacy leader explains why he's fighting to save the ad-supported internet

Google’s ad privacy leader explains why he’s fighting to save the ad-supported internet

Digital advertising needs to be safer, but giving up an ad-supported website altogether would be a mistake, writes Google’s Claire Norburn.

Access to quality information has never been more important than today. We are living through a pandemic, seeing an energy and cost of living crisis, witnessing a horrible war in Ukraine, and experiencing escalating climate crises around the world.

People rely on accessible and reliable information to help them navigate uncertainty. Today, almost 90% of Europe is online, with an explosion of tools, information and content at your fingertips.

Ads have played a key role in that, having financed our favorite content, from newspapers to magazines, entertainment television and now the web. But with more people online and more concerned about their privacy, the ad-supported model of the internet has become a topic of debate.

People reject ads that they see as spam or invasive. Regulators around the world rightly demand a more private internet, with some critics calling for a complete ban on personalized ads.

It is clear that we need a more responsible and respectful internet. Digital advertising needs to be safer for people, successful for publishers, and stronger for businesses. But completely giving up an advertising website would be a mistake. This is why:

Ads can be made more private.

Moving to a world without third-party cookies means rethinking the technology behind much of the advertising system and creating new solutions that put privacy first. But those solutions can and do exist.

We are sharing and testing many of them through the Privacy Sandbox: providing new technologies that will allow users to see relevant ads without compromising their privacy or tracking them across sites. We’re collaborating with the industry on change, listening to your feedback as we stay on track to eliminate third-party cookies by the end of 2024.

These are not the only changes we are making. At Dmexco in Cologne, we announced two more new tools to help both users and advertisers towards a more private web.

The first is Google’s Ad Privacy Center, set up to help advertisers track product innovations and learn from each other.

The second is My Ad Center. Last year, 300 million people visited Ad Settings and chose to make ads more specific to them. My Ad Center will give people control over the ads they want to see on Search, Discover, and YouTube by choosing what they like and don’t like, all in one place. This works because the best ads are helpful, relevant, and safe.

Ads will be more private.

Last year, we surveyed over 7,000 Europeans and found that when brands respect privacy, their ads perform better. This year we went deeper: we asked 20,000 Europeans about the consequences of good and bad privacy experiences.

The research shows that the industry will not only be rewarded for respecting people’s privacy, it can’t afford not to.

Three-quarters of those surveyed preferred to buy from brands that give them more control over their privacy, and almost half said they would switch to a brand that respects their privacy online.

When the brands got it wrong, the results were drastic. A poor privacy experience has almost as bad an effect on customer trust as having their data stolen – enough to make them switch to another brand entirely. The impact of a negative privacy experience outweighs that of a positive one, so once the damage is done, it’s nearly impossible for brands to win customers back.

The research was clear: a private ad is an effective ad. Therefore, moving to a more private model is not just an option, it is a necessity.

People want a website with advertising

Making the shift to a more respectful and responsible ad-supported web model is not only vital to the success of advertising, it’s essential to the future of the web.

We have seen calls to ban personalized advertising altogether and rely only on ‘contextual’ advertising. But that won’t pay for the web that everyone wants. It has been estimated that if personalized advertising suddenly disappeared, as much as $32 billion to $39 billion it would turn away those who rely on open web technology, including publishers, at a time when authoritative information has never been more important.

Some say that you simply have to pay for all services. But that would make the web a luxury good, excluding billions. That’s why Netflix, a pioneer of the subscription model, and others like Disney and HBO are now introducing ads for users who want, or need, to pay less.

These alternative models are not only flawed, they are unpopular. IAB Europe Research shows that 75% of Europeans would choose the current internet experience over one without targeted ads where they would have to pay to access websites, content and apps.

For online advertising and the future of the Internet, this is a now-or-never moment. Without people’s trust, the future of the ad-supported web is at stake. We need to embrace change and build an ad-supported web fit for the future: a web that gives people the quality information they need, delivered with the privacy they deserve, from brands they can trust. We are here to help support that transition.

Claire Norburn is the UK and Ireland Director of Ad Privacy for Google.

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