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NITIN GAJRIA | Google committed to harnessing internet economy responsibly

Keeping users safe online a top priority

A view of the main lobby of building BV200, during a tour of Google's new Bay View Campus in Mountain View, California, U.S. May 16, 2022.
A view of the main lobby of building BV200, during a tour of Google's new Bay View Campus in Mountain View, California, U.S. May 16, 2022.
Image: Peter DaSilva

Access to quality information has never been more important. We’re living through a pandemic; seeing a cost of living and energy crisis; witnessing a horrific war in Ukraine; and experiencing increasing climate crises across the globe.

People rely on accessible and trusted information to help them navigate the uncertainty. Today nearly 66% of the world is online, including about 43% of the population in Africa, with an explosion of tools, information and content. According to the UN’s International Telecommunication Union, mobile cellular penetration rate is over 100% in Africa.

Ads have played a key role, having funded content from newspapers to magazines, entertainment TV, and now the web. But with more people online, and more concerned about their privacy, the ads-funded model has become a  subject of debate. Digital advertising needs to be safer for people; successful for publishers; and stronger for businesses. 

In the past five years, search interest in private browsing increased by 60% in Nigeria, by 30% in SA and by +110% in Kenya.

This is important for businesses in Africa to acknowledge and respond to. People want great online experiences – delivered with the privacy they deserve, by brands they can trust. For advertisers, this presents a clear responsibility – but also an opportunity.

Moving to a world without third party cookies means rethinking the tech on which much of the advertising system is built, and building new, privacy-first solutions.

We’re sharing and testing many of them through the Privacy Sandbox: that will allow users to see relevant ads on both web and mobile, without compromising their privacy or tracking them across sites or apps. We’re collaborating with industry around the world on the change – on course with our commitment to phase out third party cookies on Chrome by the end of 2024.

We are also giving people greater control over their data right now. Last year we launched My Ad Center globally. In 2021, 300-million people visited Ad Settings – choosing to make ads more specific to them. My Ad Center gives people control over the ads they want to see across Search, Discover and YouTube by choosing what they like and don’t – in a single place. This works for both users and advertisers because the best ads are helpful, relevant and safe. 

Making the change isn’t only vital to advertising success – it’s essential for the future of the web.

It has been estimated that if personalised advertising were to suddenly go away, as much as $32bn to $39bn would shift away from those who rely on open web technology – including publishers, at a time where authoritative information has never been more important. 

Some say all services should simply be paid for. But that would turn the web into a luxury good – shutting billions out. 

Protecting users and keeping them safe online remains our utmost priority and at key moments like elections that’s even more important. 

We want to improve voters’ confidence in the political ads they may see, and SA is the latest country to be added to our political advertiser verification programme. Verified election ads are clearly labelled with the name of the organisation that paid for them and people can see how much was spent and what campaigns were run in our political transparency report.

Africa is experiencing incredible change. The continent is home to 19 of the top 20 fastest-growing countries on the globe, and its internet economy has the potential to grow to $180bn by 2025.

We are at a crossroads, for online advertising, and the future of the internet. Without people’s trust, the future of the ad-supported web is at stake. We need to build an ad-supported web fit for the future. A web that gives people the quality information they need, delivered with the privacy they deserve, by brands they can trust.

Gajria is MD, Sub-Saharan Africa at Google

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