Google's Privacy Sandbox is a program that aims to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome entirely over the next year, making the web a more secure and private place without completely destroying the way that targeted advertising works. And, you know, wrecking the business model for most of the web's free content, including the words you're reading now.
Privacy advocates have been skeptical of the proposed Privacy Sandbox since the beginning, mostly because old-fashioned cookies aren't the only way to track users anymore. Today Google is making a renewed commitment to the Sandbox, stating unequivocally 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."
We mentioned this in our initial report over a year ago: alternate collections of data like hardware info or even loaded fonts can be used to build a very accurate model of user behavior without leaving any local files on the machine. These "fingerprinting" alternates, among other techniques, could let Google have its cookie-free privacy cake and still eat its advertising revenue, too. Google's blog post today should do at least something to assuage fears that the program is little more than a dog and pony show.
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.
Google freely admits that other advertising companies probably won't follow suit immediately, though it doesn't go so far as saying it will be at a disadvantage. It says that as users up their expectations for privacy while browsing, and more crucially, as web advertising comes under closer regulatory scrutiny, old-fashioned, hyper-targeted advertising towards single individuals won't be a sustainable business model.
Reading between the lines: Google is probably more afraid of the US Congress and the European Commission than of any serious demand for privacy from end users. Crucially, these updated policies will apply to general web browsing in Chrome, not advertising in mobile apps or on other platforms. Google appears to view an installed app as an expectation of more targeted advertising, at least while using it.
Last January, Google said that it intended to implement these privacy changes "within two years."
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