The data that Google collects while we’re online underpins the $1.8 trillion valuation of its parent company, Alphabet Inc. Privacy campaigners have tried to limit its access to everything from search histories to user locations, yet it’s still able to monetize the digital profiles of billions of people. Now some U.S. states and consumer groups are trying to use the courts to force change. If the lawsuits succeed, it could help reshape the $300 billion digital-advertising industry and provide a template for restricting the power of giant technology companies.
When you’re using its Chrome browser, search engine or Android operating system, Google tracks your activity to build a picture of your preferences and interests. The information is gold dust for brand marketers, who need it to target their ads at the consumers who are most likely to bite. Google’s role as the middleman linking online advertisers to shoppers guarantees it a big cut of global ad budgets. The company also gathers data to protect against fraud and abuse, personalize content and maintain and improve its services. Critics say the troves of information amassed by Google, Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook and other giant tech platforms give them an unassailable competitive advantage over any potential challengers.