Google is slowly phasing out third-party tracking cookies, and today, it’s making it clear that it won’t just replace them with something equally invasive despite the impact the change will have on Google’s lucrative advertising business. In a blog post, Google explicitly states that it “will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web” after the third-party cookies are gone.
“Instead, our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers,” writes Google. “Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.”
Third-party cookies have been blocked for a while in Safari and Firefox (though the browsers differed in how far they go), and Google plans on doing the same in Chrome. The cookies allow advertisers to track you as you move between different websites, which gives advertisers a better idea of what your interests are. These hyper-targeted ads are very valuable, resulting in the creation of an ad industry whereby individual user data is proliferated across “thousands of companies,” according to Google.
Google says this practice has led to users not trusting the internet or advertisers, which puts the future of the web at risk. For all of the privacy concerns, advertising is still the primary way many companies on the internet make their money (The Verge and Google included). That’s why Google says it wants to move away from third-party cookies and toward “a more privacy-first web.”
For all the talk of privacy, Google makes it clear it’s not trying to get rid of targeted advertising in general; it just wants to replace the more invasive methods of old with a new one of its own design, which it calls Privacy Sandbox. Part of Privacy Sandbox’s job is to hide the individual inside a large crowd of “cohorts” with similar interests it will then target ads toward.
A teardown of the Chrome 89 beta APK by Android Police gives us a first look at Privacy Sandbox controls and the use of “Web Crowd” cohorts for more relevant advertising:
Google’s embrace of a privacy-first web comes amid increasing regulatory pressure from across the globe. The company acknowledges that, while noting some of its competitors will still pursue solutions built around individual identities.
“We realize this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the web that we will not — like PII graphs based on people’s email addresses,” writes Google. “We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long term investment.”