Google is developing an “anonymous identifier for advertising” that could replace third-party browser cookies, according to anonymous sources speaking to USA Today.
This “AdID” would limit advertisers’ ability to monitor user activity, which would translate into increased privacy and security for anyone cruising the Web. That could prove detrimental to advertisers, which need that data from user activity to better design and target ads, while boosting Google’s role as an Internet gatekeeper. Google could set the terms and conditions that would allow advertisers access to the AdIDs and associated data; in theory, users would have the ability to select “approved advertisers.”
The newspaper’s anonymous source also suggested that users would be able to create a secondary AdID “for online browsing sessions they want to keep particularly private.”
As pointed out by ZDNet reporter Liam Tung, AdID wouldn’t be the first time a Web company attempted to regulate third-party browser cookies: Mozilla originally tried building a cookie-blocking feature into its Firefox browser, an effort it abruptly postponed in May. Advertisers (which have also protested similar initiatives such as Do Not Track) strenuously objected to Mozilla’s move, but Google is a different beast: the giant’s domination of the online search and browser markets gives it substantial leverage in dealing with advertisers.
This summer, government whistleblower Edward Snowden offered a set of top-secret documents to The Guardian that detailed a NSA surveillance program known as PRISM. According to those documents, PRISM siphoned information from the databases of nine major technology companies, including Google. In emails to Slashdot, Google denied that it was involved in PRISM, or that it willfully participated in any NSA surveillance program; following that denial, Google poured considerable effort into emphasizing its privacy and security credentials—for example, announcing in August that it would automatically encrypt its users’ Cloud Storage data. If AdID ends up implemented, it could be viewed as the next step in that effort.