With browsers like Firefox and the new Edge clamping down on the excesses of Cookies, Google has been under increasing pressure to do the same with Chrome. The company has always held that restricting cookies too much would only lead websites to use more surreptitious means of tracking people. However, Google has relented and says that Chrome will block third-party cookies within two years.
Cookies are simply files deposited in your browser when you visit a website. They can retain state information like form entries, login status, and more. However, cookies have also become the most common means by which websites follow you around the web for advertising purposes. Those cookies can tell companies with which you’ve never directly interacted what sites you visit and what you do while you’re there.
Usually, first-party cookies are the ones you want — they have something to do with a website’s functionality. Third-party cookies are almost always about advertising or tracking, and you have little to no control over what companies do with that data. Google is an advertising company first and foremost, so it has been hesitant to restrict cookies. Google’s rationale for keeping cookies around — that they’re probably better than the alternative — is not necessarily wrong. However, its motivations for making that argument are suspect.
I’ve criticized Google in the past for handwaving a hypothetical alternative to cookie blocking without teeth.
Now they’re delivering teeth: a plan to kill tracking cookies in 2 years.
So I retract my criticism. Kudos to Google. This is a big deal.
— Ben Adida (@benadida) January 14, 2020
Google will begin making changes in February 2020 when it will begin forcing third-party cookies to operate over HTTPS. That will bring us a step closer to eliminating insecure cross-site tracking. Eventually, all third-party cookies will stop working in Chrome as part of the company’s “Privacy Sandbox” initiative. Google is also working on new tools to detect and block “browser fingerprinting” where a site uses information about your system like the installed fonts and plug-ins to create an online tracking profile.
While Google has relented on the issue of tracking cookies, it notes that the current web model is based on targeted ads. Simply blocking all tracking cookies puts that model at risk, according to Google. So, the company says that it will work with various stakeholders to ensure there are still viable ways to advertise while also giving users control over their data. There are a lot of vague promises and plans here, but Google does have two years to figure it out.
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