Google unveils 'About this ad' feature and Chrome ad transparency extension

Google is rolling out a new feature named "About this ad", which will show users the verified name of the advertiser behind each ad. About this ad will initially be available for display ads purchased through Google Ads and Display and Video 360 before being implemented on other ad surfaces throughout 2021, Mike Schulman, VP, ads privacy and safety said in a recent blog post.

About this ad is in addition to its current feature known as "Why this ad", where from an icon in a digital ad, users can get more information on some of the factors that were used to select the ad for them, or choose to stop seeing that ad. According to Schulman, there are 15 million user interactions per day with Why this ad as people seek to learn more about and control the ads they see. This feature was recently extended to ads on connected TVs.

Additionally, Schulman said that due to the complexity of the digital ads ecosystem and the large number of entities involved, it is typically not clear to users which companies are even involved in showing them an ad.

To provide people with detailed information about all the ads they see on the web, Google is also releasing a new tool called Ads Transparency Spotlight.

The tool is available as an alpha extension from the Chrome Web Store. "We will continue to improve this extension based on feedback from users, and over time we expect to offer additional disclosures about ads, as well as introduce controls. Our hope is that other technology providers will build similar transparency and control capabilities into the experiences they offer as well," he added.

Meanwhile, Chrome also continues to explore more privacy-forward ways for the web browser to support digital ads with the Privacy Sandbox open standards initiative. As part of the Privacy Sandbox, several proposals have been published for new application programming interface (APIs) that would solve for use cases like ad selection, conversion measurement, and fraud protection in a way that doesn’t reveal identifying information about individual users.

According to Schulman, one of the proposed APIs, for trust tokens that could combat ad fraud by distinguishing between bots and real users, is now available for testing by developers, and more will move to live testing soon.

"Once these approaches have addressed the needs of users, publishers and advertisers, Chrome plans to phase out support for third-party cookies. These proposals are being actively discussed in forums like the W3C," Schulman said. He added that Google's ads team is actively contributing to this dialogue and it expects to incorporate the new solutions into its products in the years ahead.

It is also exploring a range of other approaches to improve user privacy while ensuring publishers can earn what they need to fund great content and advertisers can reach the right people for their products.

"For example, we support the use of advertiser and publisher first-party data (based on direct interactions with customers they have relationships with) to deliver more relevant and helpful experiences—as long as users have transparency and control over the use of that data," he said.

What is not acceptable, Schulman said, is the use of opaque or hidden techniques that transfer data about individual users and allow them to be tracked in a covert manner, such as fingerprinting. According to him, Google believes that any attempts to track people or obtain information that could identify them, without their knowledge and permission, should be blocked.

Google's ad revenue dips

Separately, Google recently announced its financial results, amassing an ad revenue of US$29.867 billion, compared to US$32.494 billion during the same period last year. Meanwhile, YouTube posted an ad revenue of US$3.812 billion, an increase from US$3.603 billion last year. Revenue for Google Search dipped from US$23.642 billion to US$21.319 billion, while it increased from US$2.100 billion to US$3.007 billion. Overall, Google's revenue dipped slightly to US$38.297 billion from US$38.944 during the same period last year.

According to Ruth Porat, CFO Alphabet and Google, the company saw a gradual return in user search activity to more commercial topics throughout the quarter followed by an increase in spending by advertisers. This resulted in an improvement in year-on-year search revenue trends during the quarter, with search revenues essentially flat to last year by the end of June. Meanwhile, its YouTube ad revenue was driven by ongoing substantial growth in direct response, offset by a continued decline in brand advertising which then moderated toward the end of the quarter.

Porta added that network advertising revenues were US$4.7 billion, down 10% year-on-year, with trends improving somewhat toward the end of the quarter as advertiser spend began to return. On the Google Cloud front, Porat said the lower revenue growth in the second quarter, relative to the first quarter, reflects the fact that G Suite lapped a price increase that was introduced in April last year. 

While the ads revenue gradually improved during the quarter across Search, YouTube and Network, Porat said Google believes it is premature to gauge the durability of recent trends given the obvious uncertainty of the global macro environment.

Over the long term, it remains optimistic about the underlying strength of its business. "In terms of Google Cloud, we are pleased with the traction we’re having with large customers who are making multi-year commitments with us. This is reflected in the strength of our backlog, which ended the quarter at US$14.8 billion, substantially all of which relates to Google Cloud. This performance is a result of the investments we are making into the Cloud go-to-market organisation," Porat added.

Meanwhile, CEO of Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, recently said during the antitrust hearing in the US that competition also sets higher standards for privacy and security. "I have always believed that privacy is a universal right and should be available to everyone, and Google is commttied to keeping your information safe, treating it responsibly, and putting you in control of what you choose to share. We also never sell user information to third parties. But more must be done to protect users across industries, which is why we have long supported the creation of comprehensive federal privacy laws," he added.

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