Google Won’t Use Other Tools When It Ends Chrome Cookies

Google has made a further privacy promise when it finally removes third-party tracking cookies from its Chrome web browser.

The search engine giant pledged not to develop or use alternate tools to track web browsing traffic when it eventually pulls cookies from Chrome in 2022, despite the impact it will have on Google’s lucrative advertising business.

Google has been working on removing cookies since early 2019, and it should be remembered that rival browsers such as Safari and Firefox already block third-party cookies (with differing levels of blocking).

Tracking cookies

But Chrome is the biggest web browser in terms of market share.

In early January the UK competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), announced it was investigating “Google’s proposals to remove third party cookies and other functionalities from its Chrome browser.”

Later that same month, Google provided an update of the progress it has made in what it is calling the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project.

This will effectively disable third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine and replace them with a new set of tools for targeting advertising and other functionality that Google says will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent.

But now in a blog post from David Temkin, director of product management for ads privacy and trust, Google responded to questions about whether it will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers.

This is because the advertising industry is trying to develop ways to balance consumer privacy while maintaining personalisation in advertising, once they can no longer use cookies.

“But as our industry has strived to deliver relevant ads to consumers across the web, it has created a proliferation of individual user data across thousands of companies, typically gathered through third-party cookies,” wrote Temkin.

Trust issue

“This has led to an erosion of trust: In fact, 72 percent of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81 percent say that the potential risks they face because of data collection outweigh the benefits, according to a study by Pew Research Center,” wrote Temkin.

“If digital advertising doesn’t evolve to address the growing concerns people have about their privacy and how their personal identity is being used, we risk the future of the free and open web,” he added.

“That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies, and why we’ve been working with the broader industry on the Privacy Sandbox to build innovations that protect anonymity while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers,” he wrote.

Tracking pledge

“Even so, we continue to get questions about whether Google will join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers,” he wrote. “Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

“People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising,” he added. “And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising.”

Temkin cited advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies as offering a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.

“Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy – and that means an end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web,” Temkin concluded. “We remain committed to preserving a vibrant and open ecosystem where people can access a broad range of ad-supported content with confidence that their privacy and choices are respected.”

Essentially, Google is aiming to place people’s web browsing history on user’s personal devices, rather than on the servers of advertisers.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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