This fall, tech companies will try to push private browsing into the mainstream
In the 2010s, protecting your privacy on the internet seemed to be a priority for the tin foil hats set. This fall, some of the world’s biggest tech companies will try to push the concept further into the mainstream.
In September, Apple will launch Apple Private Relay, a paid service that, for $ 4.99 per month, will prevent websites (and trackers loaded on their pages) from identifying who is viewing them; Neeva, a private subscriber-funded search engine that does not allow advertising, will begin searching for clients armed with $ 40 million raised in a recent round of Series B funding; Firefox, which has nearly 200 million monthly active users, will continue to educate its user base on two privacy-focused consumer products, including a VPN and a private relay product that emerged from beta. at the end of last year.
These companies’ approaches to privacy differ, but they all bet on the same thing: that a significant number of consumers – after years of reading about personal data hacks, irresponsible data sharing and surveillance capitalism – will simply decide to reject the tracking methods and systems that underpin modern digital advertising.
The size of this piece can be difficult to guess. While digital privacy is more discussed today than in the past, its issues remain obscure for a large percentage of Internet users. But the mere fact that so many companies place these kinds of bets should give marketers a break as they move forward with their life plans after third-party cookies.
“We’re seeing a shift in the tech industry primarily because users have seen how these same companies have abused their data,” wrote Al Smith, director of fundraising at the Tor Project, in an e- mail. The Tor Project, which claims online privacy by encrypting traffic, is in the first year of a multi-year project to improve the speed and scalability of its browser. “Ultimately, we’re happy to see the vision and goals of the Tor Project (and in some cases the technology we originally developed) see wider adoption, but there is still a long way to go. Browse.”
Although privacy-focused software has been around for years, it has been adopted mostly on the fringes of society. Statistics released by The Tor Project suggest that its user base has hovered around 2 million daily active users worldwide over the past four years. Downloads of the three most popular VPN apps – Norton, Super Unlimited Proxy, and CyberGhost – are slightly more robust, but still imply that private browsing is emerging user behavior: the three apps, combined, were downloaded 13 million dollars. times compared to the previous year, according to data from Sensortower.
And for private browsing to gain traction, a critical mass of consumers must think it has a problem to solve. Until recently, the Americans weren’t there yet. Separate 2019 studies by the Pew Research Center found that small percentages of U.S. consumers, less than 15%, were actively taking steps to maintain their online privacy, and barely half let privacy concerns dictate their use. from different departments: Respondents said they decided not to use a product or service for fear of the amount of personal information that would be collected about them.
“What we do and what we protect against is not intuitive to users,” said Marshall Erwin, Mozilla’s chief security officer. “The immediate effort was focused on how we can take the product offering as is and communicate it clearly to consumers. “
Advocates of privacy will say, however, that there is momentum behind this effort. The Brave browser, for example, which blocks all advertising and allows users to browse anonymously using Tor, has amassed a small user base of around 9 million daily users since its launch in late 2019. It’s also growing rapidly: the startup announced its comeback in February that its daily and monthly user base had more than doubled.
Even with the wind at your back, a large-scale change will likely take some time. Sridhar Ramaswamy, who ran Google’s advertising business before leaving to found Neeva, said he believed Neeva could reach 200 million subscribers, each paying a minimum of $ 4 per month (Ramaswamy hopes commercial customers at the enterprise level, which typically generate significantly more revenue per user, will be part of Neeva’s long-term future).
He also thinks it will take time. With a few weeks of beta, Neeva’s app had been downloaded just over 2,000 times by the end of August, according to Sensortower. It is not known how many converted to customers. “The process of building Netflix’s subscriber base type is a project of over 10 years,” said Ramaswamy. Unlike network effects which can make a new application or a new social network take off on the Internet, Ramaswamy said: “The cases are won, one at a time.
And as Neeva, Apple, Firefox, Tor, and others gain these conversions, marketers face the consequences. While earlier technologies that disrupt advertising like the DVR didn’t end up delivering the death blow many feared, they had a cumulative effect, and this crop of privacy products will be added to it. “Advertising’s ability to reach every consumer as before is diminished,” said Brian Wieser, president of business intelligence at GroupM.
Marketers have many places besides the Internet to get in front of consumers. But between private browsing, the self-contained advertising ecosystems built by Google, Facebook, Amazon, Walmart, and others, the media ecosystem is heading for a much more atomized place, along with the steps being taken to fix it. . A renaissance of contextual targeting that is taking place not only on the open web, but within large ecosystems like Google’s, suggests that advertisers may try to move away from identity-based targeting and more towards a system of triangulation. context-based or other more freely available signals.
“You turn something rare and strategic into something abundant and specific,” Wieser said. “If your spots and spots are getting rarer, the answer is to decouple the attributes.”