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Google Chrome Privacy Sandbox: What Gives?

Google Chrome Privacy Sandbox: What Gives?

Last month, Google introduced an interesting concept to the world of ad tech — especially coming from a company that makes most of its money from ad revenue. 

Google’s Privacy Sandbox is aimed at curtailing improper tracking and alleviating consumer privacy concerns while continuing to allow ad targeting. 

But what, exactly, is the Privacy Sandbox? And what does it mean for advertisers and publishers? 

In short, Privacy Sandbox is a set of APIs designed to protect user privacy while also allowing publishers and advertisers to target based on interest, demographics and more. The project “consists of new APIs that will allow advertisers to show targeted ads, but without having direct access to users’ personal details, as they do now,” writes Catalin Cimpanu at ZDNet. 

Using the so-called ‘Differential Privacy’ techniques that Google has employed for their own internal projects, the APIs block the Chrome browser from sharing identifying data until it can be lumped in with thousands of other users’ data points. It means advertisers can still track and target, but introduces a layer of anonymity. Vox aptly calls it a tightrope walk

“It’s possible for your browser to avoid revealing that you are a member of a group that likes Beyoncé and sweater vests until it can be sure that group contains thousands of other people.”

Potential Uses for the Privacy Sandbox | Chromium Blog

Six months before Google announced the initiative, the Think with Google blog positioned the idea behind the sandbox project. “When you work in digital advertising, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be an average internet user,” Global Product Strategy Lead Kelsey LeBeau wrote. “But when you take a step back and experience the web as most people do, you begin to understand why so many people employ ad blockers.” 

While the Privacy Sandbox isn’t mentioned in the article, LaBeau’s point still stands. Ad block is bad for publishers and advertisers, but bad ads (or lack of privacy) is bad for consumers. The Privacy Sandbox seems to be an effort to address the conundrum. Google was simultaneously positioning the importance of ad targeting and what makes for good consumer optics.  

As the Chromium blog puts it, the Privacy Sandbox is among the first steps “in exploring how to address the measurement needs of the advertiser without letting the advertiser track a specific user across sites.” Google is the king of ad tech — if the Privacy Sandbox threatened advertiser reach or ability to target (or ad revenue) in any way, you can rest assured they wouldn’t move forward. Instead, it seems to be a way to address consumer concerns with privacy. 

If the philosophy behind the project is sound, a Privacy Sandbox across browsers won’t mean a decrease in revenue for publishers or the nullification of targeting for advertisers. Google seems to think it will simply mean users will be less likely to use ad blockers, willing to relegate their privacy to a buffer. 

For more of a developer view on Google’s Privacy Sandbox project, you can check out its series of explainers designed to encourage commentary from the web community. 

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