Google aims to banish third-party cookies within the next two years

Google, the Internet giant that serves more than 87% of worldwide web users, has given further details on its Privacy Sandbox initiative.

Announced in August 2019, Privacy Sandbox aims to strengthen users’ online privacy, while protecting online publishers and advertisers. Google now says it wants to phase out support of third-party cookies within the next two years.


What is Privacy Sandbox?

Google believes that the large-scale blocking of cookies means website developers are reverting to other techniques such as fingerprinting. Through fingerprinting, developers can acquire pieces of information from a website user and create unique identifiers, even if that user has blocked cookies.

This is where Privacy Sandbox comes into play. Its aim is to deter the use of techniques such as fingerprinting, give greater user control and eradicate third-party cookies.

In essence, Privacy Sandbox will become an open set of standards for digital tracking that intends to fundamentally enhance user privacy on the web.

Justin Schuh, director of Chrome engineering, said: “After initial dialogue with the web community, we are confident that with continued iteration and feedback, privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete.

“We are working actively across the ecosystem so that browsers, publishers, developers, and advertisers have the opportunity to experiment with these new mechanisms, test whether they work well in various situations, and develop supporting implementations, including ad selection and measurement, denial of service (DoS) prevention, anti-spam/fraud, and federated authentication.”


What are cookies?

A cookie is a piece of data a computer receives from a web page and then returns it in its original state. The purpose of this cookie is to help the website track a user’s visits and their activities while on the website.

They can also track items added to a website shopping basket, and in some cases record login information to make logging in to a site easier.


Google raises concerns over competitor browsers

Google is the top Internet browser used, but there are others such as Safari, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Edge that impose stricter restrictions on web tracking.

They have been strongly criticised by Schuh, who believes that the blocking of third-party cookies has “unintended consequences that can negatively impact both users and the web ecosystem”, adding that it could encourage the use of more “opaque” and “invasive” tracking techniques.


Google’s approach for the benefit of Google?

Although Privacy Sandbox appears to benefit Chrome users, experts say that it may be influenced by Google’s own digital advertising needs, as this accounts for most of the organisation’s revenue.

Justin Brookman, director of consumer privacy and technology policy at Consumer Reports, said: “The other browser vendors seem motivated to actually limit third-party tracking given increasing consumer frustration. So many ads these days are retargeted based on visits to other sites, so people are increasingly aware that their browsing is tracked all over the web (and elsewhere).

“Google on the other hand seems more interested in preserving third-party tracking – but because cookies are fragile and under attack elsewhere, Google is exploring other tracking methods in the browser.”

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