Google’s AdID: The Real Cookie Monster


Major changes may be in store for the way web browsing activity is tracked. Enter Google’s AdID that could replace internet cookies with it’s own anonymous ID system, which has the potential to greatly affect the fate of digital advertising and possibly allow Google to further monopolize the internet. Are these possibilities frightening? They could be.

First, let’s define what “cookies” are before comparing them to Google’s AdID tracking. Cookies are bits of tracking code that are dropped into your browser (mobile devices excluded) as you search the web. Cookies track your web history and allow advertisers to analyze that data and use it to predict your future online interests.

However, some of Google’s competitors, Microsoft and Apple, for example, actively work to block cookies. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer sets their default browser to “do not track”. Additionally, Apple’s Safari doesn’t allow for third-party cookie tracking altogether. Their objectives are to create browsers that people want to use and have trust in, although Apple does have a cookie substitute called the “Identifier for Advertisers” (IDA) that is the default on their mobile devices running the new iOS 7. So how does Google differ from these other browser providers?

Google’s Chrome (currently the most popular browser in the world) allows all third-party cookies as their default setting. You have the ability to turn all tracking off but the average person likely doesn’t even think to do this, therefore in most cases, all third-party cookies remain enabled in Chrome.

Within the near future, Google plans to meet with government, consumer and industry groups to discuss their proposal of AdID. Their main goal is to prove that their own anonymous ID system will be more advantageous to advertisers and ad networks while providing more online privacy to users than cookies currently do. Additionally, Google also recently announced that they will no longer provide organic keyword data within Google Analytics (not a huge surprise following the steady growth of “not provided” keyword data), leaving no current alternative to gathering this type of information about Google users. While these two proclamations are likely very closely related, Google’s full intentions are still unclear at this point.

Below are some of the benefits of advertisers and ad networks agreeing to Google’s terms to use AdID:

  • Single-identifier compared to different third-party cookies
  • More personalized user profiles
  • Greater control over ad tracking
  • Adjustment of browser settings and “private” online browsing enhancements

Conversely, below are some of the disadvantages of Google’s AdID tracking system:

  • “Improved” online privacy from a company who has built its success on gathering and providing data
  • Browser privacy settings may automatically reset to default each year
  • Advertisers have to adhere to Google’s terms and possible fees
  • Google (already dominating 70% of the market share) stands to gain even more power and control
  • Google could choose to cut back on the use of their tracking ID system which could dangerously jeopardize digital ad spend

Google's AdID could signify either a positive shift for users and advertisers or a potentially dangerous power move from an established leader in the online advertising space. Regardless of the consequences, the overall implication is clear: a significant change is on the horizon for digital advertising and we need to be prepared to quickly adapt as things continue to evolve.