Privacy progress or handwaving?

Next year, Google will give up on tracking technologies that on longer make them enough money to justify the privacy invasion. And they want a pat on the back.

This article is part of a series of thinking examining modern media and our civic life including my new book For ALL the People available now.

At first blush this reporting on today’s announcement from Google’s Ads team about abandoning the use of individualized cross-website tracking for ad targeting seems like a step in the right direction toward systems that respect individual privacy. And it is. But if you read more closely, there are two details buried in the story that demand attention:

  1. Google will continue to mine individual browsing details, just on your own device rather than across multiple sites for ad targeting in ways that remain opaque and impossible to opt out of.

  2. This change in targeting policy and methodology does not apply to mobile devices.

So to be clear, Google wants credit for being a better, more respectful actor in digital spaces for coming up with a new way to target you but sticking to the old methods in the places where a larger and larger majority of traffic (and therefore ads) takes place.

This announcement is the right conversation and is acknowledgement that there is a right direction here but is ultimately wildly insufficient to real change. More is possible with participation and this kind of acknowledgement from the biggest players, but more leadership is required. I’m reminded of a phrase about flatware and cannibals…


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