Google to Restrict User Information It Gives Advertisers
By Patience Haggin
Alphabet Inc.'s Google said its ad exchange would stop telling
advertisers what categories of websites users are visiting, a
concession to European data-protection authorities that have said
the company's real-time ad auctions violate European Union privacy
The changes will affect the process behind the electronic
auction that happens in milliseconds to determine which ads show up
when users load a website. In that time, hundreds of potential
bidders can find out information about users, including their
location, the unique number associated with their mobile device and
even whether they have been reading about a disease, religion or
After the changes, which take effect in February, advertisers
will still have access to data such as locations and unique device
numbers, but no longer the contextual category describing the
website on which the ad would appear. The address of the website
will remain available to advertisers.
The change resulted from discussions with data protection
authorities, Google said in a statement. The company, which is
undergoing scrutiny from a few European national authorities,
declined to single out a single authority connected to the
As online ad auctions come under the microscope, Google is
facing scrutiny as the largest player in the global ecosystem of
In May, the U.K. data-protection authority said real-time ad
auctions violate the European Union's General Data Protection
Regulation and gave the industry six months to comply. Its report
specifically stated that real-time bidding protocols created by
Google, as well as a bidding protocol designed by an
advertising-industry trade group, weren't compliant with GDPR.
That same month, Ireland's Data Protection Commission opened its
own investigation of Google focused on the same matter.
"Google's announcement is an important statement of intent and
we look forward to seeing what practical impact it will have on
Google's operating model and the industry more widely," a
spokeswoman for the U.K. data protection authority said in a
statement. She confirmed the authority is continuing to discuss
additional changes with advertising-industry groups including the
U.K.'s Internet Advertising Bureau -- known as IAB UK -- and IAB
Europe. Google is a member of both groups.
Johnny Ryan, the chief policy officer at browser company Brave
-- whose complaint prompted the Irish Data Protection Commission's
investigation of Google's real-time advertising process -- called
Google's concession "essentially a sop."
"They are still going to be broadcasting to countless companies
what everyone is watching reading and listening to -- and where
they are," Mr. Ryan said.
A Google spokeswoman said the bid requests only transmit
"coarse" location data -- at the level of a subject's city, rather
than precise location.
The change removes one tool that ad buyers use to target their
ads. For example, buyers used contextual categories to place ads on
"sites about Hinduism." Now they won't have the ability to use that
label, said Andrew Goode, executive vice president of programmatic
at ad agency Havas Media Group.
Write to Patience Haggin at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 14, 2019 16:17 ET (21:17 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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