An update to Google’s Chrome browser could spell the end of third party cookies, in a move that Wired says could “rewrite the rules” of online advertising.
Third-party cookies have long been derided by privacy campaigners, with the code able to track users as they browse the web. Whereas first-party cookies only send data from each user back to the original company in charge of the website, third-party cookies track users wherever they go online. This information is then used to serve them more relevant ads – and is why certain products appear to follow you around after you first research them.
Apple and Mozilla have already made strides in this field, with Safari and Firefox having limited third-party cookies for years. Now, Google could be set to follow suit, striking a major blow to advertisers relying on the technology.
However, this move may not be an entirely altruistic gesture from Google looking to improve the privacy of its users. Wired said the development could actually “tighten Google’s grip on the advertising industry and web as a whole.”
This is because of how Google is expected to categorise and channel individuals, so they can still be served relevant ads (even if they’re not unique to them and driven by their specific browsing histories). With Google’s approach, users will be more generally categorised based on their perceived interests or wants. If a user has researched new laptops, for example, they’ll be categorised as being tech afficionados or in the market for a new gadget. Businesses can then serve their ads to this slightly more generalised, but still interested, audience.
The concern is that all this information is still expected to be retained and used exclusively by Google. Vice President of Communications at the privacy-conscious search engine Duck Duck Go, Kamyl Bazbaz, even went so far as to call the development a “super-tracker that is present on even more websites than Google Analytics.” Of course, with the development still in its infancy, there’s a great deal more time (and potentially more changes to come) before it reaches the mass market. However, it should still be of great interest to security-conscious web users throughout the development phase – to see which way the chips fall; whether it’s a boon for anonymity or another way for Google to exert its dominance.