In a very quiet and decidedly non-public update to its privacy policy, Google has rescinded their promise to never link their ad tracking with personally identifiable information.

A recent article by propublica.org revealed that despite having insisted for years that privacy would be their number one concern when it came to advertising products, Google has now backtracked and changed their privacy policy to say that “depending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google.”

Although it is possible to opt out of this (and existing accounts have to opt in), all new Google accounts have this “permission” enabled by default. Which as we know, effectively means that most people will never opt out, since they don’t know that they need to.

So Much For Anonymous Web Tracking

Google is by no means the first to link this sort of tracking data with users real names. Facebook and numerous other platforms and companies have been doing (and trying to do) this for some time already. But we always thought that Google would stand firm on this, and it was always a point in their favour, at least as far as I was concerned.

Now however, they’ve joined the ranks of the advertisers out to squeeze every last drop of personalisation out of users.

That Said…

Despite being a little disappointed by their stepping back from this, there are a few points I do have to give them credit for.  It is optional. If you have an existing account, and you didn’t opt in to their “new ad controls” features, nothing is going to change. And they do give you a lot of comprehensive options for managing what data they save about you and your activity in your account settings.

You can even use the “Activity Controls” they provide to delete whatever information they’ve collected about you if you want.

On The Plus Side

Despite being a potential negative for users, this might also prove a boon to advertisers and marketers. In theory, this could eventually make it possible to target ads directly to individual users, customising them based on things like their name, websites they visit, and the searches they do.

So as with most things, there are positive and negative aspects, depending on your point of view. And again to be fair, they do let you opt out of it entirely, so we probably shouldn’t complain that much.