Share story

Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, is considering developing a tool that would make it easier for companies to tailor online advertisements without using cookies, which track Web-browsing habits, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

The technology is known as an “anonymous identifier,” said the person, who asked not to be named because the plans aren’t public. An anonymous identifier is intended to create a simpler way for consumers to signal how much they want to be tracked online, whereas it is sometimes difficult to manage cookies. Cookies — small bits of digital data — are placed on browsers as users go from website to website, and have been controversial for stirring up privacy concerns.

Google, which makes most of its money from online advertising, is looking for new ways to encourage the use of paid promotions on the Internet. Some browsers, including a version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, have a feature that automatically limits tracking, making it more difficult to serve ads tailored to users.

“Potentially, it would allow Google to remake a system that currently has gotten more hostile to its ad business,” Danny Sullivan, founding editor of Marketing Land, said in an email. “This lets Google promote its own homegrown initiative to bypass these things.”

“We believe that technological enhancements can improve users’ security while ensuring the Web remains economically viable,” Google said in a statement, without commenting on whether it’s considering creating an anonymous identifier. “We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they’re all at very early stages.”

Apple has announced an advertising identifier for its iPhones, giving users more control over “advertisers’ ability to use tracking methods,” the company said in its terms for the sixth version of its mobile software.

USA Today reported earlier this week that Google is creating anonymous identifiers that would replace third-party cookies as the way advertisers track browsing activity for marketing purposes.