In a surprise move, Google announced yesterday that it now supports moving away from tracking cookies. Don’t expect significant changes today, though—we won’t see the first moves until February, and the company says a complete shift away is years out. And don’t confuse a promise of privacy for a world without targetted ads, Google still wants those too.
It’s probably not a total surprise that Google changed its mind about tracking cookies—Safari and Apple have already started blocking them by default, and even Microsoft started testing the waters. But it wasn’t long ago that Google spoke of doom and gloom regarding blocking tracking cookies.
The company probably has a point: take away a method of tracking, and the other side will just find another. We’ve already seen that with Incognito Mode tracking. Google blocked the prevailing method of checking for Incognito Mode, and within days websites adjusted and found a new way to test for it. So for you, nothing changed.
Under that line of thinking, Google didn’t want to block tracking cookies for fear that a new harder to detect scenario would take its place. Ultimately the company’s solution is to create the alternative.
Google says it wants to create a “Privacy Sandbox” that uses machine learning and other techniques to learn about users while protecting their identities. Part of that entails aggregating like-minded users together—essentially providing anonymity through obscurity.
That should provide enough information to target ads generally without relying on invasive tracking methods like tracking cookies. At least that’s the theory.
In the meantime, Google is planning to make some changes soon. Starting in February, the company says it will take steps to limit insecure cross-site tracking. To do so, Chrome will treat cookies without the SameSite label as first-party, and any third party cookies will need to use HTTPS for access.
That’s a start, but not a total solution to the problem. If all goes well, though, we may someday have a little more privacy even as ads continue to rely on targetting methods to remain effective. That might be the middle ground to protect the users of the internet while still funding the internet.
Source: Ars Technica