The battle for digital privacy is reshaping the internet, Telecom News, ET Telecom

Apple introduces a pop-up window for iPhone in April that asks people for their permission to be tracked by different apps.

Google recently outlined plans to disable tracking technology in its Chromium Web browser.

And Facebook said last month that hundreds of its engineers were working on a new way to serve ads without relying on users’ personal data.

The developments may seem like technical tinkering, but they were tied to something bigger: an escalating battle over the future of the the Internet. The struggle has entangled tech titans, upended Madison Avenue and disrupted small businesses. And it heralds a sea change in the way people’s personal information can be used online, with far-reaching implications for how businesses make money digitally.

At the center of the fight is what has been the lifeblood of the Internet: advertising.

More than 20 years ago, the Internet changed the advertising industry. He gutted newspapers and magazines that relied on selling classified and print ads, and threatened to dethrone television advertising as the primary means for marketers to reach large audiences.

Instead, brands ran their ads on websites, with their promotions often tailored to users’ specific interests. These digital ads fueled the growth of Facebook, Google and Twitter, which offered their search and social networking services for free. But in exchange, people were tracked from site to site by technologies like “cookies”, and their personal data was used to target them with relevant marketing.

Now that system, which has morphed into a $350 billion digital advertising industry, is being dismantled. Driven by online privacy fears, Apple and Google have begun revamping the rules around online data collection. Apple, citing the privacy mantra, has rolled out tools that prevent marketers from tracking people. Google, which depends on digital ads, is trying to have it both ways by reinventing the system so it can continue to serve ads to people without exploiting access to their personal data.

If personal information is no longer the currency people give for online content and services, something else must take its place. Media publishers, app makers and e-commerce shops are now exploring different avenues to survive a privacy-conscious internet, in some cases reversing their business models. Many choose to charge people for what they get online by charging subscription fees and other fees instead of using their personal data.

Jeff Green, CEO of Trade Desk, an ad tech company in Ventura, Calif., that works with major ad agencies, said the fight behind the scenes is fundamental to the nature of the web.

“The internet answers a question it has wrestled with for decades, namely: how will the internet pay for itself?” he said.

The fallout could hurt brands that relied on targeted ads to get people to buy their products. It may also initially hurt tech giants like Facebook – but not for long. Instead, companies that can no longer track people but still need to advertise will likely spend more with the biggest tech platforms, which still have the most consumer data.

David Cohen, CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, said the changes would continue to “get money and attention on Google, Facebook, Twitter.

The changes are complicated by Google and Apple’s opposing views on how much ad tracking to recall. Apple wants its customers, who pay a premium for its iPhones, to have the right to block tracking entirely. But Google executives have suggested that Apple has made privacy a privilege for those who can afford its products.

For many people, this means the internet can start to look different depending on the products they use. Ads on Apple gadgets may only be somewhat relevant to a person’s interests, compared to Google’s highly targeted web promotions. Website builders can potentially choose sides, so some sites that work well in Google’s browser might not even load in Apple’s browser, said Brendan Eich, founder of Brave, the private web browser. .

“It will be the story of two internets,” he said.

Businesses that don’t keep up with the changes risk being crushed. Increasingly, media publishers and even apps that display the weather are charging subscription fees, similar to netflix charges a monthly fee for video streaming. Some e-commerce sites consider raising product prices to maintain revenue.

Consider Seven Sisters Scones, a mail-order bakery in Johns Creek, Georgia, that relies on Facebook ads to promote its items. Nate Martin, who leads the bakery’s digital marketing, said after Apple blocked some ad trackers, its digital marketing campaigns on Facebook became less effective. Since Facebook could no longer get as much data about customers who love baked goods, it was harder for the store to find interested shoppers online.

“It all came to an abrupt end,” Martin said. In June, bakery revenue fell to $16,000 from $40,000 in May.

Sales have since held steady, he said. To make up for the drops, Seven Sisters Scones discussed raising sample box prices to $36 from $29.

Apple declined to comment, but its executives said advertisers would adapt. Google said it was working on an approach that would protect people’s data but also allow advertisers to continue to target users with ads.

Since the 1990s, much of the web has relied on digital advertising. During this decade, a piece of code implanted in web browsers – the “cookie” – began to track the browsing activities of Internet users from one site to another. and products.

After the introduction of iPhone and Android app stores in 2008, advertisers also collected data on what people were doing in apps by installing invisible trackers. This information was linked to cookie data and shared with data brokers for even more specific ad targeting.

The result was a vast advertising ecosystem that underpinned free online websites and services. Sites and apps like BuzzFeed and TikTok have thrived using this model. Even e-commerce sites rely partly on advertising to grow their business.

But distrust of these practices began to grow. In 2018, Facebook was implicated in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where users’ Facebook data was improperly collected without their consent. That same year, European regulators enacted the General Data Protection Regulation, laws to protect people’s information. In 2019, Google and Facebook agreed to pay record fines to the Federal Trade Commission to settle alleged privacy breaches.

In Silicon Valley, Apple has revised its advertising approach. In 2017, Craig Federighi, Apple’s software engineering manager, announced that the Safari web browser would prevent cookies from following people from one site to another.

“It’s kind of like you’re being followed, and that’s because you are,” Federighi said.

Last year, Apple announced the pop-up for iPhone apps that asks users if they want to be tracked for marketing purposes. If the user says no, the app should stop monitoring and sharing data with third parties.

This caused an uproar from Facebook, which was one of the apps affected. In December, the social network ran full-page newspaper ads saying it was “standing up to Apple, on behalf of the small businesses that would be hurt once their ads could no longer find specific audiences.”

“The situation is going to be difficult for them to navigate, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg said.

Facebook is currently developing ways to target people with ads using information collected from their devices, without allowing personal data to be shared with third parties. If people who click on deodorant ads also buy sneakers, Facebook may share this template with advertisers so they can show sneaker ads to this group. This would be less intrusive than sharing personal information such as email addresses with advertisers.

“We support giving people more control over how their data is used, but Apple’s profound changes have happened without input from the industry and those most affected,” he said. said a Facebook spokesperson.

Since Apple released the pop-up, more than 80% of iPhone users have opted out globally, according to ad tech companies. Last month, Peter Farago, an executive at Flurry, a mobile analytics company owned by Verizon Mediapublished a post on LinkedIn calling it the “moment of death, for tracking ads on iPhones.

Darcy J. Skinner