Google’s Privacy Sandbox

Google’s Privacy Sandbox: An Alternative to Third-Party Cookies

The industry is trying to build an alternative to Third-Party Cookies that aims to avoid privacy concerns and cross-site tracking. With this idea, Google announced the deprecation of Third-Party Cookies in Chrome over a year ago and has been publicizing its alternative initiative the Privacy Sandbox.

What is the Privacy Sandbox?

In the words a developer, a ‘sandbox’ is an isolation environment where various testing can be done safely and without disturbing anything outside that environment. Like we set up sandboxes for our children to play safely in, the Privacy Sandbox set up by Google aims to put boundaries around how various companies can interact with each other and “play” with data in the Chrome Browser.

The aim of Google with the Privacy Sandbox is to put constraints on cross-site tracking of users’ browsing behavior while simultaneously promoting a web ecosystem that is ad-supported as well as respectful towards user data and privacy as a default characteristic.

The Privacy Sandbox from Google is a set of about 25 proposals that allow open-web interest-group based advertising that can operate without user cross-site tracking and Third-Party Cookies. While some of these proposals are quite straightforward, many of them are still vague and collectively they can become a bit overwhelming to wrap your head around.

However, it is the Chrome team that will make the decision on which parts of what proposal would ultimately end up in the final version. Other browsers have still not shown much interest in most of the proposals save a few exceptions.

The Impact of Google’s Privacy Sandbox on Advertisers

Google has not ignored the impact the Privacy Sandbox would bring on to the advertisers. To this end, measures are being taken to help buyers in deciding how much to bid for ads seen by audiences, simultaneously while testing out their tech advancements.

Thus, Google has encouraged ad exchanges, demand-side platforms and advertisers from the moment they announced the Privacy Sandbox to start experimenting with the technology and providing feedback from these tests. Google has said that they would be sharing the underlying proposals of the Privacy Sandbox and receiving inputs and feedback at two key places, the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C and the popular developer platform GitHub.

An Overview of the Privacy Sandbox

The Privacy Sandbox can be divided into four brackets for better understanding:

  1. Ad Targeting: This deals with how advertisers can reach out to the right customers.
  2. Ad Delivery: This bracket focuses on how advertisers can serve the ads on the webpage.
  3. Ad Performance: This is about how advertisers can get accurate reporting &
  4. User Privacy: This focuses on keeping user privacy at the center of it all.

How do Advertisers reach the right Customers: Ad Targeting

This is the first problem that the Privacy Sandbox intends to solve. Advertisers always want to able to view the users on their own sites or on those used by other companies that sell their products and reach out to those users along with new customers interested in their products.

Two of the Privacy Sandbox proposals FLoC & TURTLEDOVE are specifically designed for that purpose. While the former aims to help advertisers to prospect (find new customers) the latter aims to help advertisers re-target customers.

Both these names are acronyms. It is interesting to point out here that most of the underlying proposals in the Privacy Sandbox are acronyms named after birds.

FLoC stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts. It uses federated learning, an advanced machine learning technique to help advertisers reach out to new customers. It allows browsers to interact with each other and based on a user’s browsing behavior groups them with other similar users into cohorts that in turn helps advertisers to reach out to customer based on these cohorts.

TURTLEDOVE on the other hand stands for Two Uncorrelated Requests, Then Locally-Executed Decision On Victory.

In order to better understand this, TURTLEDOVE can be further broken into two parts: First, Two Uncorrelated Requests and Second Then Locally-Executed Decision On Victory.

Part-1: Two Uncorrelated Requests

Presently when advertisers serve an ad to the user, they generally make one request: they ask the server to get an ad. This is effectively a single chain of events. TURTLEDOVE changes that so there are two totally separate chains of events occurring simultaneously.

Part-2: Then Locally-Executed Decision On Victory

Once again, in today’s scenario, the decision of what ad gets served is completely made by the ad server based on the rules set forth by the publishers. With TURTLEDOVE the servers no longer make that decision, but it is the browsers who do that.

The key takeaway here is that the TURTLEDOVE does not replace the current system but simplifies the ad auction process by making it occur in the browser rather than in the office of some ad server.

The problem with how ad auctions have worked for the past several years is that the process included Third-Party Cookies. This is where the Privacy Sandbox comes into the picture. For the TURTLEDOVE world in Chrome, “some things stay the same but three new things start to happen” to replace the Third-Party Cookies.

Instead of the information being stored on a Third-Party Cookie it will be stored in the browser. For example, if you are browsing for say a Nike Air Jordan Sneaker, a shoe-store selling sneakers may see that your browser is spending a lot of time surfing for Nike Air Jordan(s). the marketer or the ad-tech platform exclusively allowed to go on that site could assign you (the user) to a few interest groups like “Nike Fan” or “Air Jordan Intender”.

This interest group assignment can happen many times in your browser. Whatever you are surfing for on the internet, your browser will store up these interest groups assigned by the advertisers on their sites. Also, the browser will store the specific ad networks that are authorized by that advertiser.

There have been speculations about whether the information being stored on the browser change the privacy that a user has. Well, this is the whole reason behind the Privacy Sandbox. As Third-Party Cookies and ad-tech companies’ servers are not used to store the information, no one can link that information to that particular user.

The Privacy Sandbox proposals are set to drastically change the advertisement industry as it aims to curtail the use of Third-Party cookies and cross-site tracking. The Privacy Sandbox is a set of 25 proposals set forth to help advertisers reach out to the right customers, serve the ads on pages, and get accurate re-posting all the while keeping the user privacy at the center of it all. TURTLEDOVE, one of the 25 proposals, deals with allowing advertisers to re-target customers based on interest groups that are used to auction ads.

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