Google made waves today with software that purports to banish ad tracking cookies. In reality, virtually no one will use the software, it doesn't banish ad tracking cookies, and Google itself is the leading tracker to begin with.
Google's software, the ineptly named "Keep your opt outs," is an extension for Google's Chrome browser that helps you participate in various "do not track" programs run by various advertising networks. The problem, first, is that the vast majority of web surfers don't use Chrome, and the small minority who do won't all install this extension. Second, the extension itself is based on the toothless National Advertising Initiative that, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation points out, allows members to indefinitely track people who have "opted out" from ad tracking, and which includes only a subset of advertisers.
What's most absurd, and even offensive, about this weak privacy project is that Google itself is easily the biggest perpetrator of precisely the sort of tracking this software is designed to prevent. It advertising wing DoubleClick has trackers on 70 of the top 100 websites, a ubiquity second only to Google Analytics. The DoubleClick tracker follows you around the web and targets ads at you based on your surfing habits. It also builds up a demographic profile of you and targets ads that way. Google trackers also target ads at you based on searches you've run on Google.com. Finally, the indiscreet configuration of Google's search engine is essential in providing your search keywords to all ad trackers; Google stubbornly refuses to change this setup.
If Google really wanted to enhance internet privacy, it wouldn't distribute some dumb, pointless web extension. Instead, it would simply change the behavior of its own utterly dominant search engine and its own utterly dominant ad network. But it won't do that because, as an advertising company first and foremost, Google has no incentive to genuinely and substantially undermine ad tracking. That's why it advertises its new "privacy" software as giving "you significant control without compromising the revenue that fuels the web content." That fact that it doesn't compromise ad revenue is how you know it's not working.
[Photo via Getty]