Google Privacy Sandbox – Attribution in a cookieless world

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Google Privacy Sandbox – Attribution in a cookieless world

What has Google announced?

Google made many announcements regarding privacy; the following is a brief summary of key communication points.

In August 2019, Google spoke about how cookies are essential to the advertising industry and at the same time mentioned how some people can use cookies to build a unique identifier and invade user privacy.

Finally, Google announced ‘Privacy Sandbox’ (more detail to follow), to achieve a personalized advertising experience to the user without compromising privacy.

Google published documents to explain their initial ideas and asked for feedback from web platform players.

Other platform players include Internet browsers — Firefox, Safari, etc. Advertisers — brands who buy advertising to promote their product or service, and publishers — websites with content and selling their ad space.

In January 2020, just before covid-19 took over the world, Google made one more announcement; Google updated that the industry’s feedback was optimistic and confident regarding their ‘Privacy Sandbox.’
And with that confidence, they announced that they would phase out the support for third-party cookies in their Google Chrome browser.

In March 2021, in the recent announcement, Google said after the support for third-party cookies are phased out, Google will not develop a unique identifier solution to identify users across the web using different browsers and devices;

Google also said that they would not be using any such identifiers in their products.

Instead, they will use ‘privacy-preserving APIs,’ which will prevent identifying individuals across the web while delivering the same efficiency and value level to advertisers and publishers.

What is Google’s Privacy Sandbox?

Like setting up a children’s sandbox where kids can play, dig, build or play without messing up your house, Google also created a developer sandbox for Google Chrome, where companies or individuals can ‘play’ with the Google Chrome browser data.

In developers’ language, a ‘sandbox’ is an isolated environment and a safe place for testing that can’t affect anything outside of it.

Google’s developer sandbox is not one proposal or one solution; it’s over two dozen proposals. It’s a colossal attempt to re-engineer how digital advertising works in today’s world.

Privacy Sandbox will cover 4 key areas:

  1. Ad targeting
  2. Ad delivery
  3. Ad performance
  4. User privacy

1. Ad Targeting, how advertisers reach desired audiences

The first problem the privacy sandbox aims to solve is how advertisers reach their customers or potential customers by targeting the right ad to the right users.

Advertisers want to reach users interested in their products or reach a customer on a different website who previously visited their website.

FLoC & TURTLEDOVE, both acronyms, are two different proposals designed to solve ad targeting problems.

FLoC stands for “Federated learning of Cohorts,” which uses advanced machine learning knows as “Federated Learning” to allow advertisers to reach new audiences.

TURTLEDOVE stands for “Two Uncorrelated requests, Then Locally-Executed Decision On Victory,” which is a proposal to solve the problem of retargeting customers; this is for advertisers who want to reach the users who already visited their website before.

2. Ad Delivery, how advertisers serve an ad on a web page

After reaching the right customer, the next important step is to serve the right ads to them.

Delivering an ad to a web page is another critical point-in-time where the risk of user privacy getting compromised is higher.

What are Fenced Frames?

Fenced Frames are like iframes (or inline frame); this is a way to embed one web page into another webpage; most of the world’s digital advertising is through iframes.

Fenced Frames works similarly to iframes, but they are separate from everything else on the page; you can still embed ads using Fenced Frames, but the advertiser’s ability to learn information about the user on the page is totally shut off, this will significantly reduce the risk of invading user privacy at ad delivery stage.

Trust Token API

Cookies and other tracking technologies are significantly matured in detecting advertising fraud;

ad fraud is a type of online fraud where advertisers are tricked into spending money to buy ads on websites that are either low value or irrelevant or visited by bots (no human traffic)

It is crucial that these privacy sandbox proposals must continuously maintain the same trust level; maintaining the trust without third-party cookies in the picture is an arduous task.

The Trust Token API helps authenticate real users without using any tracking technology. How you ask

The Trust Token segments the users into two groups, a trusted group and an untrusted group using a non- personalized browser token; you would not know anything about the individual user. The only identification about the user is whether they are in user group A or user group B.

3. Ad Performance, How advertisers get accurate measurement of their paid media campaigns

Many advertisers prefer spending on online media over offline media because they have visibility on their ad dollars’ performance and effectiveness.

It is crucial to solving this step without third-party cookies; without a proper measurement solution, advertisers might invest in online advertising at a similar scale.

The Google Chrome team proposed a few standards, including the Aggregated Reporting API and the Conversion Measurement API.

The Aggregated Reporting API & Conversion Measurement API

The Aggregated Reporting API gives advertisers a privacy-first way to measure how many users saw their ad from a specific ad campaign; this is achieved by providing only a single report after gathering and aggregating the data from multiple websites.

The conversion measurement API proposes a new way of tracking an ad campaign’s success without using third-party cookies; it stores how many users took action based on an ad, whether buying a product or filling a lead form.

In both scenarios, the browser itself stores all the information, which ads caused users to do something; previously, conversion and performance data were very dependent on the third-party cookies.

Google makes it hard for the advertising companies to tie the click and conversions to an individual; all of this is aggregated information, nothing at the user level.

4. User Privacy, How to maintain user privacy

The first three key areas covered are advertising-focused, the last and the most important key area is ‘user privacy.’

The SameSite Attribute

You might be surprised to learn that the browsers actually struggle to differentiate between first-party cookies and third-party cookies.

To help, Google is forcing website developers and advertising technology companies to mark their third- party cookies for browsers to identify quickly.

If the cookies are marked, it’s easier for users and browsers to block third-party cookies.

So how is Google enforcing this? Google will consider all cookies as first-party cookies unless they are specifically marked.

Is it bad? It is for website developers and ad tech companies because third-party cookies are essential for their products to function correctly.

This change will go into effect for Google chrome browsers of version 80 and above.

The Privacy Budget

Third-party cookies are not the only way for companies to identify and profile users across different websites.

Web browsers also reveal quite a lot of information about the users like the IP address, fonts they support, version of the browser, and a lot more;

With enough data points across companies, can stitch the data and identify a user reasonably well; this is called the ‘fingerprinting.’ technique.

To prevent fingerprinting, Google Chrome is developing a technology called Privacy budget.

In simple terms, every website will have a budget (which is the amount of information) that it can use to request from browser; you can’t go beyond that allocated privacy budget.

There might still be a possibility of identifying a large part of heterogeneous groups.


Whatever Google is doing or attempting to do will impact the whole industry because Google Chrome is around 60% market share.

Google’s privacy sandbox proposals are work-in-progress, nothing is set-in-stone, and there is NO single working replacement for third-party cookies yet.

Google also mentioned that they don’t plan to remove third-party cookies until they have an acceptable replacement.

There are multiple ad tech players building measurement frameworks outside of the privacy sandbox to test if the proposals are successful.




By | 2021-11-29T21:58:20+00:00 October 19th, 2021|Media, Personalization|0 Comments

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