Advertising Privacy

Cookie Exchange: Google Topics to Replace Cookies and Provide More Advertising Privacy

Cookies have been a ubiquitous, essential part of the Internet world for decades. Web cookies are small files downloaded from a website that keep track of a user’s prior website sessions, registration information, text size preferences, and other user experiences. They also serve to track a user’s movements on the website that sent the cookie. As digital marketing has gotten more sophisticated, some companies now use cookies more aggressively to track a user’s browsing habits, so called tracking cookies. In a nod to advertising privacy concerns, Google has begun to phase out the use of tracking cookies in favor of a new kind of marketing tool that it calls “Google Topics.” 

What is Google Topics?

Google Topics is a new privacy-focused initiative that cultivates a list of topics that a particular user may be interested in based on her or his browsing activity. It has created an initial list of 350 topics (such as “fitness” or “travel”), with more to come. The plan is that a user navigates to a particular website, that user’s browser will generate a list of three topics (one from each of the previous three weeks of browsing activity) to share with the website owner. Topics will be removed entirely after 21 days. 

Google’s stated goal is to increase privacy protections for users and to empower them with more transparency and control over their personal information. This goal of consumer advertising privacy is in line with the spate of recent state-level privacy laws from Virginia and Colorado, as well as the groundbreaking California Consumer Privacy Act (“CCPA”) and California Privacy Rights Act (“CPRA”). Google has already started phasing out third-party cookies over the last two years and has been searching for a viable replacement through beta testing and feedback from the digital marketing industry. 

Why does the switch to Google Topics and elimination of tracking cookies matter to your business?

Digital marketers have seen enormous success with the advent of behavioral advertising, or advertising based on a user’s Internet surfing habits. Connecting a user who is searching for grills with an ad for charcoal is a much more effective and efficient way to advertise. But privacy advocates caution that the present advertising climate is too heavily weighted against consumers. In some instances, behavioral advertising, made possible in part by tracking cookies, could be as benign as the grill-charcoal example above, but, in others, it may also be pernicious in targeting consumers with, for example, extreme political ads.

The CPRA contains specific provisions meant to curtail behavioral advertising and tracking cookies. Europe’s General Data Privacy Regulation likewise restricts tracking cookies and targeted advertising. Google Topics appears to amount to a compromise – a way for advertisers to continue analyzing browsing behavior for marketing purposes, but in an environment much more in line with consumer privacy. Understanding how advertising programs like Google Topics could alter the type of micro-targeting that many marketers can do today is crucial to adapting to the fast-changing world of privacy in advertising. 

Hire experienced consumer data privacy attorneys. 

As the digital marketing landscape shifts, companies must adapt to varied state laws. Congress has also taken up the torch on limiting behavioral advertising and use of tracking cookies. As Google Topics comes online, digital marketers should be asking themselves questions about their privacy policies, including:

  • Is our privacy policy compliant with the CPRA, Virginia Consumer Data Privacy Act, and Colorado Privacy Act? 
  • Are we providing users with sufficient information about how our business uses their personal information? 
  • Does our business use tracking cookies for advertising purposes? 

With no overarching federal data privacy law, businesses are stuck navigating a patchwork of industry-specific and state-level laws that regulate the use of consumer personal information. Hiring experienced consumer data privacy attorneys can help ensure that your business stays ahead of the curve. The attorneys at Klein Moynihan Turco have years of experience in creating and updating privacy policies to conform to all the latest changes in, and anticipated changes to, consumer data privacy laws. 

If you need assistance with updating your data privacy and collection policies, email us at info@kleinmoynihan.com or call us at (212) 246-0900

The material contained herein is provided for informational purposes only and is not legal advice nor is it a substitute for seeking legal advice from an attorney. Each situation is unique, and you should not act or rely on any information contained herein without seeking the advice of an experienced attorney.

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Photo by Kevin Paster from Pexels

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