Google is in trouble. The company says it is committed to protecting the privacy of its users, but it has built one of the most profitable businesses in the world around the idea that if you track what users do online, You can show them personalized ads based on their interests and activity.
The real problem for Google is that it is not only the most popular search engine in the world, but it also makes Chrome the most widely used browser in the world. This gives the company an extraordinary impact on the way billions of people use the Internet.
Over the past few years, other browser-makers have begun to take steps to better protect user privacy. Both Safari and Firefox now block third party cookies, which are pieces of software used to track users on various websites or apps. Both devices also offer protection against fingerprinting, which uses other types of data such as browser, screen resolution, IP address, and browser extensions to track them.
As pressure mounts to eliminate cookies, Google says 2019 blog post That it will start exploring ways to make the web respect user privacy:
We believe that with continued iteration and feedback, open-standard mechanisms such as privacy-protection and privacy sandboxes can maintain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will make third-party cookies obsolete. Once these approaches have met the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers, and we’ve developed tools to mitigate workarounds, we’re looking to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome. are planning. We intend to do this within two years.
The Privacy Sandbox is what Google describes as “a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy”. Google seems to have agreed at the time that cookies were bad, but said it was unwilling to block cookies because it would lead to major privacy concerns such as device fingerprinting.
Then, Google published a Blog post in January 2020 said the company was working on “a path toward making third-party cookies obsolete” within two years. It’s been way too long. In fact, the path has only gotten longer.
Now, Google has extended that deadline even further, It now says it will not phase out third-party cookies until the second half of 2024. If you have been doing maths at home, it’s already been over two years. Google now says it will be at least two more.
Part of this is that Google can’t block cookies without bringing in anything to replace them, even if it wants to. After all, tracking is the lifeblood of the digital advertising economy.
Ironically, Google would be better off if it only blocked third-party cookies wholesale. It doesn’t really need that kind of data, as it already contains a lot of information about you, depending on which Google websites you use.
Take search ads, for example. You don’t need to do any tracking to find out what a relevant ad might be when someone tells Google what they’re looking for. There has never been a more personalized advertising opportunity than this.
Also, every other advertising platform relies on third-party cookies to track user information on websites and provide important data such as ad conversions. Turning off those cookies in Chrome would put them at a huge disadvantage against Google.
In theory, blocking cookies would be good for Google, except that it would be seen as highly uncompetitive. It might be better for privacy, but it would be disastrous for advertising.
And, therefore, Google is trying to figure out a way to get rid of cookies, but to provide a replacement that balances privacy and advertising. So far, it hasn’t gone well. Its first attempt, known as FLOC, was widely panned and rejected by both digital advertisers and privacy advocates. It’s since called Topics, which effectively uses Chrome to do all the tracking, which I think is more privacy protective because advertisers don’t really know anything about the individual users they target. .
Still, tracking is tracking and privacy is privacy. With this latest delay, Google has made it clear that it can make the web respect the latter, but it won’t because it can’t let go of the former.