Google Begins To Switch Off Ad-Tracker Cookies

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Google starts switch-off of third-party ad tracking cookies under privacy initiative, as advertisers say company gaining too much control

Google has given tens of millions of its Chrome browser users the option of switching off third-party cookies, as it continues the gradual rollout of its controversial Chrome Privacy Sandbox initiative.

The company said it had activated the system for a random one percent of those who use Chrome, or about 30 million people.

The browser had a market share of about 64.7 percent as of December 2023, according to figures from Statcounter, making it by far the most popular browser, followed by Apple’s Safari with 18.6 percent, Microsoft’s Edge with 4.96 percent and Mozilla Firefox with 3.4 percent.

The change means selected users will see a notification when they start Chrome asking them if they want to “browse with more privacy” using a feature called Tracking Protection.

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Tracking protection

The feature, when enabled, blocks third-party cookies used by advertisers to track users’ browsing activities and offer customised ads based on online purchases, browsing habits and other data.

Users will have the option of re-enabling cookies if they cause problems with sites.

“If a site doesn’t work without third-party cookies and Chrome notices you’re having issues… we’ll prompt you with an option to temporarily re-enable third-party cookies for that website,” said Google vice president Anthony Chavez in a blog post.

Advertisers have complained about Google’s plans and as a result the rollout of Privacy Sandbox has been overseen since June 2021 by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which can roll back the changes if they are deemed to give Google too much control over the online advertising market.

Anonymised data

Instead of cookies Google wants advertisers to make use of Privacy Sandbox features built into Chrome, which group users according to their browsing habits and offer that anonymised data to advertisers for ad personalisation – effectively making Google the gatekeeper for that data.

Google argues the system is less invasive than third-party cookies, which can already be turned off in rival browsers such as Safari or Firefox.

The company all data processing takes place in the browser itself, and will be retained for only three weeks.

Under its deal with the CMA the firm has agreed on limits to how it uses the browsing data collected by Chrome.

Advertiser scorn

Google described the partial switch-off as a test allowing developers to see how the system works in real-world situations.

The firm is planning to effectively switch off third-party cookies for all users in the second half of this year.

“Google’s solution, the Chrome Privacy Sandbox, which only works on a Chrome browser, likely doesn’t benefit anyone other than Google,” said Phil Duffield, UK vice president for ad-buying platform The Trade Desk.

“The advertising industry is on a collective mission to build something better,” he added.