Google’s Ads Privacy Officer Explains Why It’s Fighting to Save the Ad-Supported Internet

Digital advertising needs to be safer, but abandoning an ad-supported website altogether would be a mistake, writes Google’s Claire Norburn.

Access to quality information has never been more important than it is today. We are living through a pandemic, witnessing a cost of living and energy crisis, witnessing a horrific war in Ukraine, and experiencing growing climate crises across the world.

People rely on accessible and reliable information to help them navigate uncertainty. Today nearly 90% of Europe is online, with an explosion of tools, information and content at your fingertips.

Ads have played a key role in this, having funded our favorite content, from newspapers to magazines, entertainment TV and now the web. But with more people online and more concerned about their privacy, the ad-supported Internet model has become a hot topic of debate.

People reject ads that they consider spammy or invasive. Regulators around the world are rightly demanding a more private internet, and some critics are calling for a total ban on personalized ads.

It is clear that we need a more responsible and respectful Internet. Digital advertising needs to be safer for people, successful for publishers, and stronger for businesses. But forgoing an ad-supported website entirely would be a mistake. Here’s why:

Ads can be made more private

Moving to a world without third-party cookies means rethinking the technology that much of the advertising system is built on and creating new privacy-focused solutions. But those solutions can — and do — exist.

We share and test many of them through the Privacy Sandbox: providing new technologies that will allow users to see relevant advertisements without compromising their privacy or tracking them across sites. We’re collaborating with the industry on change, listening to their feedback while keeping our sights set on moving away from third-party cookies by the end of 2024.

These aren’t the only changes we’re making. At Dmexco in Cologne, we announced two additional new tools to help users and advertisers move towards a more private web.

The first is the Google Ads Privacy Hub, set up to help advertisers track product innovations and learn from others.

The second is My Ad Center. Last year, 300 million people visited Ads Settings, choosing to make ads more specific to them. My Ads Center will allow users to control which ads they want to see on Search, Discover, and YouTube by choosing what they like and what they don’t like – all in one place. It works because the best ads are helpful, relevant, and safe.

Ads will be more private

Last year, we surveyed over 7,000 Europeans and found that when brands respect privacy, their ads perform better. This year, we dug deeper: we asked 20,000 Europeans about the consequences of good and bad privacy experiences.

Research shows that industry won’t just be rewarded for respecting people’s privacy – it can’t afford not to.

Three quarters of respondents prefer to buy from brands that give them more control over their privacy and almost half said they would switch to a brand that respects their online privacy.

When the brands got it wrong, the results were drastic. A bad privacy experience has almost as much of a negative effect on customer trust as having their data stolen: enough to send them switching to another brand entirely. The impact of a negative privacy experience outweighs that of a positive one, so once the damage is done, it’s nearly impossible for brands to bring customers back.

The research was clear: a private ad is an effective ad. So moving to a more private model isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity.

People want an ad-supported website

Moving to a more respectful and responsible web model based on advertising is not only vital for the success of advertising, it is essential for the future of the web.

We’ve seen calls to ban personalized advertising altogether and rely only on “contextual” advertising. But that won’t pay for the web everyone wants. It has been estimated that if personalized advertising suddenly disappeared, as much as $32 billion to $39 billion would move away from those who rely on open web technology, including publishers, in a time when authoritative information has never been more important.

Some say all services should just be paid for. But that would turn the web into a luxury good, excluding billions of people. That’s why Netflix, a pioneer of the subscription model, and others like Disney and HBO are now introducing ads for users who want – or need – to pay less.

These alternative models are not only flawed, they are unpopular. Search by IAB Europe shows that 75% of Europeans would choose today’s internet experience over an ad-free experience where they have to pay to access websites, content and apps.

For online advertising and the future of the internet, it’s now or never. Without people’s trust, the future of the ad-supported web hangs in the balance. We must embrace change and create an ad-supported web fit for the future: a web that gives people the quality information they need, delivered with the privacy they deserve, from brands they can trust. We are here to help support this transition.

Claire Norburn is the Ads Privacy Officer for Google in the UK and Ireland.

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