The battle for digital privacy is changing the internet


Jeff Green, the chief executive of the Trade Desk, an ad technology company in Ventura, California that partners with major ad agencies, said the behind-the-scenes battle was fundamental to the nature of the web.

“The internet answers a question it has struggled with for decades, namely: how is the internet going to pay for itself?” he said.

The consequences could harm brands that relied on targeted advertising to get people to buy their goods. It may also hurt tech giants like Facebook initially, but not for long. Instead, companies that can no longer track people but still need to advertise are likely to spend more on the biggest tech platforms, which still have the most consumer data.

David Cohen, chief executive of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group, said the changes would “continue to generate money and attention for Google, Facebook and Twitter”.

The shifts are complicated by Google and Apple’s opposing views on how much ad tracking should be rolled back. Apple wants its customers, who pay a premium for its iPhones, to have the right to completely block tracking. But Google executives have suggested that Apple has turned privacy into a privilege for those who can afford its products.

For many people, this means that the Internet can look different depending on the products they use. On Apple gadgets, ads may be only slightly relevant to a person’s interests, compared to highly targeted promotions on Google’s web. Website makers can ultimately take sides, so some sites that work well in Google’s browser may not even load in Apple’s browser, said Brendan Eich, a founder of Brave, the private web browser.

“It will be a story of two internets,” he said.

Companies that do not keep up with the changes run the risk of being run over. Increasingly, media publishers and even apps that show the weather are charging subscription fees, just like Netflix charges a monthly fee for video streaming. Some ecommerce sites are considering raising product prices to maintain their revenues.

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