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Google’s new advertising controls will allow users to personalize and choose ads of brands they want to see. Part of a feature, called My Ad Center, the new feature was announced at Google’s annual developer conference on Tuesday.

It said the new features will be rolled out “towards the end of the year", and will let users control ads they see on YouTube, Search and the Discover feed on Google.

Note, it will  not be available on Google’s entire ad network, such as websites. My Ad Center will show names of brands that appeared in ads seen by users on Google in the past. Google said users will be able to choose ad categories  such as fitness, vacation rentals, or skincare, and learn more about the information shared in the ad content.

According to experts, this could be an important step to popularize permission-based online advertising. Bengaluru-based brand consultant Harish Bijoor said controls like these will make online advertising “user-friendly", as user controls have not been the dominant mindset. “It means we are heading towards more permission-based advertising and marketing, and everything that is permission-based.This will ensure users can block out categories they don't want to look at and types of advertisers they don't want to touch," he added.

While the feature will take time to gain traction, experts said it will make brands more sensitive about ad content, as  the standards in web advertising are often lower than those on television and print media.

Brands will be able to realize that people may block them if they indulge in  certain actions. “This  is a direct connection between the consumer and market, and sensitivity will deepen," Bijoor said.

While it may be part of a bigger shift in online advertising, it will not have an immediate effect on revenues or ad numbers, experts said.

Prasanto K. Roy, tech policy consultant, said it’s unlikely to dramatically impact the number of ads on Google’s products, as most users do not use these controls even when they are available. “Even currently available controls such as ‘Stop showing this ad’ are not used by many," he added.

Roy said the impact of ads is influenced by many things that may be ahead of the brand recall, including the quality of ad and its ability to grab attention. On YouTube, skippable ads show only for five seconds, but in rare cases, people keep watching them even after the five  seconds, he said. Advertisers are working very hard on quality to increase the impact of the first five seconds.

Advertising business is a significant part of Google’s annual revenue. It accounted for more than 80% of the company’s revenue in 2020. Experts said when brands pay for ads, they look at the reach, and for each user who blocks a brand, there will be many more who will not.

Roy said if Google sees ads dropping, it will take steps to address it, including offering toolkits and guides to advertisers on improving engagement.

"Or they will dial down on disable ad-block options at times, perhaps for an advertiser fee."

Google itself is making the My Ad Center feature as part of its new privacy offerings.

Isha Suri, senior researcher at the Centre for Internet Society (CIS), however, called this an “incremental win".

“It is fine that users can soon choose what brands they see. But advertisers will still track them and show ads based on information they have shared. It still doesn't solve the larger problem of behavioural tracking," she added.

The online advertising space has been undergoing a sea change over the past year, and an even bigger shift is expected by the end of next year. Companies like Google and Apple have been pushing to shift advertising from cookie-based tracking systems to more interest-based methods.

With this change, it will become more difficult for companies to track users’ activity across the internet and use that data to target ads — which is called behavioural ad tracking, mentioned above. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature does just this, and it’s set to cost Meta (formerly Facebook) close to $10 billion a year, according to a statement made by Dave Wehner, chief financial officer of Meta, during the company’s February 2022 earnings call.

Web browsers like Google’s Chrome and Mozilla’s Firefox also allow users to stop cookie-based tracking.

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