You’re Still Being Tracked On The Internet, Just In A Different Way


“He has gathered his power.”

An undated photo provided by Stoggles shows the company’s co-founders Max Greenberg, left, and Rahul Khatri. “We need to experiment with other platforms,” ​​Greenberg says of online advertising. (Stogels via The New York Times)

The Internet industry was stunned last year when Apple introduced privacy measures for the iPhone, threatening to cripple online tracking and digital advertising. Google promised similar privacy actions.

But less than a year later, another type of internet tracking has begun to take hold. And it’s having the unintended effect of consolidating the power of some of the biggest titans of technology.

This change shows that collecting people’s data online for targeted advertising is not going away. This has implications for how companies make money online and how the Internet operates. It also underscores the benefits created by some of the biggest digital platforms.

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“They’ve gathered their power,” Eric Seifert, a media strategist and author of Mobile Dev Memo, a blog about mobile advertising, said of Apple and Google.

For years, digital businesses relied on what’s known as “third-party” tracking. Companies like Facebook and Google used technology to track people everywhere online. If someone scrolled through Instagram and then browsed an online shoe store, marketers could use that information to target shoe ads to that person and drive sales.

But that kind of aggressive tracking is being scaled back or blocked by Apple and Google to protect people’s privacy. Last April, Apple introduced a feature so that users of iPhones could choose not to be followed by individual apps. Google also announced plans to disable tracking technology in its Chrome web browser by 2023 and said it is working to limit data sharing on Android phones.

Tracking is now referred to as “first-party” tracking. In this way people are not being traced from app to app or from site to site. But companies are still gathering information about what people are doing on their specific sites or apps with the consent of users. This type of tracking, which companies have done for years, is on the rise.

In other words, Google is accumulating data on its users’ search queries, location data, and contact information. Pinterest is doing the same with its users on its site and app, while TikTok is gathering information about the people who are on its app. the new York Times Also does first-party tracking.

The rise of this tracking has an impact on digital advertising, which relies on user data to know where to target promotions. It tilts the playing field towards larger digital ecosystems like Google, Snap, TikTok, Amazon and Pinterest, which have millions of users and who have information about them. Smaller brands have to turn to those platforms if they want to advertise to find new customers.

Many small businesses are already spending less on digital ads that rely on third-party data, such as Facebook and Instagram ads, and reinvesting marketing budgets on platforms with a lot of first-party information like Google and Amazon. are allotted.

Douglas C. Schmidt, a computer science professor at Vanderbilt University who researches digital privacy, said of large tech sites, “Anyone who is in their right mind and wants to reach a large audience still has to go to them. “

Consider stogles, a company in Pasadena, California that sells fashionable protective eyewear online. Max Greenberg, one of Stoggle’s founders, said the firm, which spends about $250,000 a month on online advertising, has long spent about 80% of its marketing budget buying Facebook and Instagram ads to identify new customers. determined for.

But after Apple made privacy changes, Stogels reduced his spending on Facebook and Instagram ads to 60% of his budget, Greenberg said. The company instead bought more Google search ads, Amazon ads to reach shoppers, and ads on TikTok to appeal to younger people.

“The days of supercheap and very targeted online marketing are over,” Greenberg said. “We need to experiment with other platforms.”

Some tech companies said they do not consider the monitoring, collection and storage of data on their users to be tracking. Gathering such first-party information, he said, is the digital equivalent of supermarkets tracking customers in their stores and using that data to advertise or offer coupons to businesses.

Google and Apple said the change was not a way to consolidate their own standings. Apple said it would have to follow the same rules as everyone else. Google said it had promised regulators it would not adopt privacy measures that give itself an edge. It also said it was working on software to help advertisers and website publishers who did not have access to first-party data.

Theoretically, Facebook and Instagram would also benefit as they have an abundance of first-party data. But his parent company, Meta, has had trouble navigating the transition. In February, the company said it expected to lose $10 billion in sales this year due to Apple’s privacy measures.

To customize, Meta has hired hundreds of engineers Work on new ad-targeting Systems that do not depend on following people on the Internet. It has also asked small businesses to share information about their customers to improve the performance of their ads.

Landon Ray, CEO, ontraporeT, a software company that works with small businesses, said Meta had circulated a presentation to Ontraport customers in recent months encouraging them to share their customers’ information.

“The idea is that if everyone does this, Facebook will once again have all the data they need,” Ray said.

In a statement, Meta said the effort was not a way to evade Apple’s privacy rules and that advertisers would have to get permission from their users to share data with it. It said it created the program before Apple’s changes and that Google and Snap did similar things. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that his company expects to benefit from tracking changes in the long run.

While the meta adjusts, some small businesses have begun to explore other avenues for ads. Sean Baker, owner of Baker Softwash, an outdoor cleaning company in Mooresville, North Carolina, said it previously took about $6 of Facebook ads to identify a new customer. Now it costs $27 because the ads don’t get the right people, he said.

Baker has begun spending $200 a month to advertise to local businesses through Google’s marketing program that pops up on his website when people living in the area search for cleaners. To offset those higher marketing costs, they have raised their prices by 7%.

“Now you’re spending more money than you were before,” he said.

Other tech giants with first-party knowledge are capitalizing on the change. For example, Amazon has a plethora of data on its customers, including what they buy, where they live, and what movies or TV shows they stream.

In February, Amazon revealed the size of its advertising business — $31.2 billion in revenue in 2021 — for the first time ever. This makes advertising the third largest source of sales after e-commerce and cloud computing. Amazon declined to comment.

Amber Murray, owner of See Your Strength in St. George, Utah, which sells stickers online for people with anxiety, began experimenting with ads on Amazon after Facebook ads performed poorly. The results were remarkable, she said.

In February, when customers saw textured stickers, it paid about $200 for Amazon to make its products appear at the top of search results. That said sales were $250 a day and continued to grow, she said. When she spent $85 on a Facebook ad campaign in January, she made just $37.50 in sales, she said.

“I think the heyday of Facebook advertising is over,” Murray said. “At Amazon, people are looking for you, rather than you telling people what they need.”

This article is originally from . appeared in the new York Times,

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