What's worse than finding out that Google is entering your industry?

Realizing that Google already basically owns your industry--and that it can wreak widespread havoc by rewriting code.

That's exactly what's expected to happen today, according to The Wall Street Journal, as Google announces new initiatives at its developer conference in Mountain View, California--projected to be portrayed as a way to increase user privacy, by letting users better control the internet cookies that advertisers use to identify them.

You can imagine that slicing into the technical tools that advertisers use could be disruptive. Of course, Google is the dominant player by far in the $129 billion digital advertising industry

And so, perhaps it won't be surprising to learn--as the Journal points out--that rewriting the code like this and empowering users to reject cookies will actually work to Google's advantage.

The reason: Smaller competitors need the cookies to track and sell ads, but Google has plenty of other ways to get the same information.

"A complicated sell"

The technical change itself is fairly simple to explain but was apparently difficult to achieve.

Google will reportedly say it's creating a dashboard within the Chrome browser that lets users easily see all the cookies that are tracking them, along with easy ways to delete them.

The changes it's making don't actually go as far as changes that Apple has already made to the Safari browser and Mozilla made to Firefox. Those browsers have a much smaller market share, but they now restrict much of advertisers' cookie activity by default.

But Google has been weighing and working on the change for six long years, the Journal reports.

If the technical changes were difficult, however, Google will now face a new challenge, as the Journal put it: "a complicated sell" to convince users it's on the side of the angels here and truly motivated by user privacy.

Facebook and Google: patrons of privacy

Wait, why did it take six years to make the changes? It potentially involved rewriting millions of pages of code, and renegotiating thousands of agreements with other companies, according to the Journal's sources.

However, the effort really stepped up in the past year or so, apparently, in the wake of Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal. Of course, Mark Zuckerberg has been trying to position Facebook as a company vehemently concerned with user privacy.

We'll see how that goes. Meanwhile, not that anyone outside digital media is going to cry for them, but the smaller advertising players are already seeing the squeeze.

The Journal points out that a publicly traded French digital advertising company, Criteo, is down 27 percent since a report in Adweek in March predicted Google might make this change--and trying to assure investors it can come up with another tracking mechanism if Google takes this one away.

And so, if the predictions are true, here's the ironic place we'll wind up: a brave new world in which, all in the name of privacy, Google gains another advantage and swallows up even more of the market.

Published on: May 7, 2019
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.