Google’s AI advertising revolution: More privacy, but problems remain

In March 2021, Google announced that it was ending support for third-party cookies, and moving to “a more privacy first web.” Even though the move was expected within the industry and by academics, there is still confusion about the new model, and cynicism about whether it truly constitutes the kind of revolution in online privacy that Google claims.

To assess this, we need to understand this new model and what is changing. The current advertising technology (adtech) approach is one in which platform corporations give us a “free” service in exchange for our data. The data is collected via third-party cookies downloaded to our devices, that allow a browser to record our internet activity. This is used to create profiles and predict our susceptibility to specific ad campaigns.

Recent advances have allowed digital advertisers to use deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence (AI) wherein humans do not set the parameters. Although more powerful, this is still consistent with the old model, relying on collecting and storing our data to train models and make predictions. Google’s plans go further still.