Google ‘protecting ad revenue’ by blocking privacy standards

The tech giant says its position has been “mischaracterised" as it warns of development chaos

Google privacy

Google has voted against measures aimed at preserving web users' privacy in what would have been an expansion of the powers of the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C's) privacy wing.

W3C sets standards for the internet and comprises a swathe of organisations integral to its functioning, like Facebook and Cisco, among others.

The proposals, which 24 other voting members supported unanimously, involved handing the Privacy Interest Group (PING) the capacity to block any development projects that it felt undermined user privacy.

Alphabet Inc was the only member in the W3C working group that voted against the proposed charter, effectively vetoing the plans and kicking them back into development.

The likes of Microsoft, Facebook, Cisco, Apple, Oracle and Huawei all count themselves as members of the W3C.

Forrester's senior analyst Paul McKay told IT Pro that Google's decision was highly significant and motivated by self-interest.

"It is clearly moving here to protect its core targeted advertising business which makes up a large proportion of Google's revenues," McKay said.

"It's move is moving against the wider tide of increasing focus from society on protecting the privacy rights of individuals, noted by it being the only member of the W3C consortium to indicate its opposition to this step."

A Google spokesperson told IT Pro that its position has been mischaracterised and that it actually supports PING's plans to create a set of enforceable set of privacy principles that apply in web development.

Google says its objections centre on the need for PING to establish a formal privacy framework that gives developers the scope to examine the privacy risks of their features.

"We've been a proud supporter of W3C for many years and will continue to actively engage in the development of those principles," a Google spokesperson said. "PING will be far more effective once these principles are established, and we will wait to support its expansion until that happens."

The company initially said in its objection that for PING to establish itself as an "authoritarian review group" would lead to "significant unnecessary chaos" in the web development process.

Google added it would like PING to take a strong role in reviewing features, but was not comfortable investing it with such sweeping authority.

Standards such as the PING charter are developed in working groups within W3C before they are sent to the wider organisation for discussion and approval.

During the summer, PING asked a set of W3C members to approve the new privacy-centric charter that would hand the organisation stronger powers. Voting began in June, and closed on 4 August, according to Bloomberg.

Google's Chrome browser does not automatically block third-party tracking cookies by default, as the Firefox and Safari web browsers now do, instead offering its users an opt-out mechanism.

Targeted advertising, which such trackers are used for, makes up a significant chunk of the company's revenue stream. Moreover, speculation is rife that PING would act to undermine Google's business by deeming that several of its features compromise user privacy.

"This is a narrow-minded and retrograde step that is against the moving tide of consumer and business sentiment," McKay continued.

"The ability of Google to stymie progress in this fashion shows the outsized role that a few large technology firms have on the technical standards that govern the underlying design and future evolution of the internet."

Featured Resources

BIOS security: The next frontier for endpoint protection

Today’s threats upend traditional security measures

Download now

The role of modern storage in a multi-cloud future

Research exploring the impact of modern storage in defining cloud success

Download now

Enterprise data protection: A four-step plan

An interactive buyers’ guide and checklist

Download now

The total economic impact of Adobe Sign

Cost savings and business benefits enabled by Adobe Sign

Download now

Recommended

8 of the most secure web browsers
web browser

8 of the most secure web browsers

25 Sep 2020
Your essential guide to internet security
Security

Your essential guide to internet security

23 Sep 2020
How to enable private browsing on any device
privacy

How to enable private browsing on any device

22 Sep 2020
Third-party apps are tracking your WhatsApp activity
social media

Third-party apps are tracking your WhatsApp activity

21 Sep 2020

Most Popular

16 ways to speed up your laptop
Laptops

16 ways to speed up your laptop

16 Sep 2020
16 ways to speed up your laptop
Laptops

16 ways to speed up your laptop

16 Sep 2020
Google removes 17 apps infected with evasive ‘Joker’ malware
malware

Google removes 17 apps infected with evasive ‘Joker’ malware

28 Sep 2020