The most convenient method for websites to follow our online activity as we navigate the web—third-party cookies—will be blocked by Google Chrome on January 4, years after competing web browsers did the same.
According to a blog post by Anthony Chavez, who is in charge of Google’s Privacy Sandbox project, the browser will disable third-party cookies for 1% of users on both Android phones and laptops. A timeline that has been postponed multiple times in the past few years will see Google roll out the block to all Chrome users by the end of 2024.
Although the Chrome update has only affected a small percentage of users thus far, it is a significant change for the web. Even though there has been an increasing attempt to safeguard privacy online, ejecting cookies—small text files that websites keep on phones and PCs—has proven to be a challenging task. Statistics compiled by StatCounter show that 63% of all web traffic is attributed to Chrome.
Apple Safari, Mozilla Firefox, and Brave were among the first major browsers to disable cookies; Microsoft Edge follows suit with a “strict” privacy option; Google, on the other hand, was slower to act. It was more careful not to damage the internet advertising sector, which is vital to the survival of many websites and advertisers alike.
Concerned that Google’s advertising business would gain an unfair advantage if Chrome blocked third-party cookies, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority stepped in in 2021 to address the issue. For example, cookies can remember your language choices, prevent fraud, and make it easy to return to a site without logging in again, among many other harmless purposes.
However, many of these applications only make use of first-party cookies, not the third-party cookies that social media platforms and advertisers employ when they display adverts or when users click on share buttons. The worst possible thing that can happen is if you look at a shoe product on another website, then see an ad for it on Amazon.
“In the worst cases, third-party cookies are used to track users around the web, building up a detailed profile of them that could include not only interests but also deeply personal information such as gender, s*xuality, religion, political affiliation, etc.,” wrote Chris Mills, a technical writer who previously worked at Mozilla, in a post on the MDN site for web developers.
“This information can be used to build creepy, invasive online experiences and is also sold to other third parties.” Some have used more covert and difficult to stop tracking methods in lieu of cookies, such as fingerprinting, which identifies features of your computer.
Google and others are now developing alternatives to cookies that can do some of the same functions, such as letting advertisers know when their ads have been viewed. Google still thinks it’s viable to assist advertising while still maintaining users’ privacy.
“As we work to make the web more private, we’ll provide businesses with tools to succeed online so that high quality content remains freely accessible — whether that’s news articles, videos, educational information, community sites or other forms of web content,” Chavez said.
Google has made efforts to develop alternative solutions that can replace third-party cookies. For instance, Topics is an API that can assist with customized advertising without monitoring your online behavior. While it may be compatible with Chrome and browsers built on the Chromium open-source platform, such as Edge, it is not compatible with Safari and Firefox.
December 15th, update: At first, the article said that 1% of users would no longer be able to utilize Google’s services because third-party cookies would be blocked. Start date set on January 4th.
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