Internet cookies are the way that website owners can track our usage whenever we are on their websites. They form the foundation of the web advertising business model that has defined the internet for the last couple of decades. Unfortunately, however, cookies also create opportunities for privacy breaches as they basically track everything, we do online all the time. Google has been working on what it calls the Privacy Sandbox project since 2019 to try and address this issue, but the initiative is seen as controversial, with the company recently explaining its reasonings behind the move and what we can expect to see from it. Here is what you need to know.
Google, through its Privacy Sandbox initiative, is working to eradicate the use of internet cookies and replace them with several new systems that collectively could perform the same function. The idea is to enable advertisers to target web users with personalized advertising without affecting their privacy in quite the same way as cookies do.
Unfortunately for Google, however, many of these new systems are also being attacked by privacy campaigners who say that they are no better than cookies. For example, FloC, which stands for Federated Learning of Cohorts has been written off as simply replacing one privacy-encroaching technology with another.
Google has moved onto a new system called Topics, which, according to Tech Radar, “offers a way to serve up ads based on broad interest categories. The system relies on three weeks’ worth of browsing data, stored locally on-device, to place people into a variety of different buckets, which in turn determine what types of ads the person will receive. Web users can opt out of any particular “topic” at any time via their web browser.”
Topics have also faced criticism, but it looks like Google is going to move forward with Topics even though the search giant is delaying its move away from using cookies until the end of 2024. In response to the critics, Google’s President for EMEA, Matt Brittin told Tech Radar that it is about offering web users the services they are used to in a manner they can afford, saying:
“If you want a web that’s affordable, advertisers need to reach users. If you want no advertising, that’s the world of ad blockers and companies that develop technologies that allow people to block everything, but that’s a sledgehammer that destroys the funding model of original content”
There are certainly two sides to this debate, and it is promising that Google is working on an alternative to cookies, but it would be more productive if they were working with privacy advocates to help develop a new model for the internet that doesn’t require so much surveillance.
In other Google news, a study has discovered that the Google Chrome spellchecker includes a security vulnerability that could be leaking your passwords.