Facebook’s “clear history” tool is here. It allows users to uncouple data held by third parties through Facebook trackers from their profiles. Not to be outdone, Google proposed a new initiative with the goal of making it more difficult for advertisers to track users across the web by not only altering how cookies work in Chrome but also giving users more tools to block such cookies. The initiative is part of a larger “Privacy Sandbox” effort by Google to allow advertisers to run personalized ads but still protect user privacy.
It truly is a new day. It’s the kind of day in which advertising-reliant tech players are feeling the pressure that comes from calls for regulation. Pressure that forces them to at least pretend to be privacy advocates. Both Facebook and Google are being pushed hard from different directions. User demand for privacy is intensifying with people less likely to share their data than they were last year, but these tech giants have built their businesses on the back of advertising—targeted advertising at that. Those are two masters with very different priorities.
That last point is why we find ourselves where we’re at. Facebook and Google are working to show progress, perhaps to temper calls for regulation or to at least minimize its power. Because the efforts of Facebook and Google pale in comparison to those of Apple with Safari and Firefox. While the latter two have made privacy a centerpiece of their value propositions, Facebook and Google are working to find middle ground. They give inches when it comes to data and privacy but they dare not go all the way. Their business models won’t allow for it.
This push-and-pull between the middle ground and the privacy-first approaches tells us what the future holds. Change is coming. Consumer expectations, government involvement and challenges from competition won’t allow for anything else. What that change looks like and its impact on business models, advertising approaches and user behavior is unpredictable… at the moment.