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Google Chrome Update; Ditching Third-Party Cookies for Good

Google's Chrome update will serve as a big win for privacy enthusiasts, as well as for Google's control over the Advertisement Industry.

Google’s impending update includes removing third-party cookies from Chrome for good and stands as a big win for users' privacy. If the plans are successful, the future update will make huge changes to online advertising and make tracking billions of users' web activity a lot more difficult. While many may see this as great news for personal online privacy, smaller advertising firms will be pushed out of business, as well as having the potential to damage the business of websites that rely on advertisement for custom. But there is another winner from the update, Google, who will gain an even larger slice of control over the online advertisement industry.

The update will mean that Chrome is in control of some of the advertising process, which will involve using browser-based ML (machine learning) to log browsing history and group users based on their insterests. The move to replace third-party cookies is partly derived from its 'Privacy Sandbox' project which is essentially a set of privacy-preserving APIs (Application Programming Interface) to support businesses that fund the open web without tracking mechanisms (like third-party cookies, for example). The Privacy Snadbox project aims to disable third party cookies on the chrome browser and replace them with new tools that will allow for targeted advertising, all while protecting users' privacy at a new and better level. But third-party cookies actually play an important role in the current online advertising market, helping businesses to target their advertising to relevant users. From a privacy perspective there have been a number of concerns raised about the legality of third-party cookies due to their tracking of consumers' behaviour across the web.

The CMA has since opened an investigation into Google’s proposals to remove third party cookies and other functionalities from its Chrome browser, and will assess whether the proposals could cause ad spending to become "even more concentrated on Google’s ecosystem at the expense of its competitors". The investigation "follows complaints of anticompetitive behaviour and requests for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to ensure that Google develops its proposals in a way that does not distort competition", according to GOV.UK.

Although the project is already under way, Google’s proposals have not yet been decided or implemented, a recent study by the CMA raised concerns about the potential impact of the changes, namely, that the project could reduce the ability of publishers to generate revenue and undermine competition in digital advertising, which would increase Google’s market power. Although many commentators have said that Google's proposals are an improvement on the existing setup and have the potential to make positive impacts on the web overall.

“They're going to get rid of the infrastructure that allows individualised tracking and profiling on the web,”“They're going to replace it with something that still allows targeted advertising – just doing it a different way.” - Bennett Cyphers, Technologist at Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Matt Burgess, a deputy digital editor at WIRED says that the change is necessary due to the size of the online advertising industry and the vast amount of personal data that is held on users, He states that "such a substantial change to this system will impact a raft of businesses, from brands advertising products and services online to the ad tech networks and news organisations that propel those ads to every corner of the web."

using chrome to browse currently means that most websites will able able to use third-party cookie that can track users' browsing history and display ads based on your activity, which is why you get ads for something you accidentally clicked on for weeks after. The data gathered by cookies are added to your 'user profile' which is complied of your browsing behaviours, interests and things, or categories of things you buy, which can be fed back to a different domain than the one you are on, and can be passed on to data brokers.

“The intention really was to initiate a certain set of proposals about how older technologies like third-party cookies, as well as others, can be replaced by privacy-preserving API alternatives,” - Chetna Bindra, Product Lead for Google’s Ads

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