blog: Don Marti


interesting missing sentence

13 June 2021

In response to the news that Google won’t end support for tracking cookies unless UK’s competition watchdog agrees, the company has come out with a page stating Our commitments for the Privacy Sandbox.

The key commitment that I was looking for in there is something about how a site's decision to use Google Privacy Sandbox will or will not affect the ranking of search results from that site in Google Search and Google News.

It would not have taken them much time to add that, plus of course a little extra lawyer time depending how many lawyers need to read it before they post. But that didn't happen. Which makes the missing sentence the loudest part of the whole thing.

By now it's pretty clear that we're going to continue to have arguments about the future of web advertising, and then, whatever way those arguments turn out, everyone is going to do everything exactly Google's way because Google dominates search. For example, Google FLoC opt-outs are a thing now, but how many sites will stay opted out even after the SEO impact becomes clear? Wikipedia, GitHub, and Amazon have a high enough profile that they're probably fine, but how will The Markup do in search results, against other sites that cover the same topics in a more Google-friendly way?

Instead of sending an anticompetitive message in a document that can be part of discovery in a lawsuit, or stating it in a meeting that can be recorded or testified about, Google can encode the message in patterns of search results so that SEO consultants can reconstruct it for their clients. No message text has to be shared, but an internal message M at Google can become M′ at the recipient company. There is probably a really good information theory paper about how this works.

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