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Google prefers cookies to fingerprints

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Internet giant Google has announced some measures designed to better protect the privacy of users of its Chrome browser.

Under the heading of ‘Privacy Sandbox’ Google wants to develop a set of open privacy standards. At the core of this initiative is the use of cookies, which are bits of software that track people’s online activity and, so the theory goes, serve them more relevant advertising. Google concedes that some use of cookies doesn’t meet acceptable data privacy standards, but that blocking them isn’t the answer.

A major reason for this is that it encourages the use of another tracking technique called fingerprinting. This aggregates a bunch of other user preferences and behaviours to generate a unique identifier that performs a similar function to cookies. The problem with fingerprints, however, is that there’s no user control over them and hence they’re bad for data privacy.

Since the digital ad market now expects a considerable degree of targeting, but fingerprinting is considered an unacceptable solution to the blocking of cookies, Google wants to come up with a better one that will be implemented across all browsers, hence this initiative. The Privacy Sandbox is a secure environment designed to enable safe experimentation with other personalization technologies.

“We are following the web standards process and seeking industry feedback on our initial ideas for the Privacy Sandbox,” blogged Justin Schuh Director of Chrome Engineering at Google. “While Chrome can take action quickly in some areas (for instance, restrictions on fingerprinting) developing web standards is a complex process, and we know from experience that ecosystem changes of this scope take time. They require significant thought, debate, and input from many stakeholders, and generally take multiple years.”

While this is all laudable it should be noted that Google has possibly the greatest vested interest in optimising targeted advertising online. While that makes it perfectly understandable that it would want to take the initiative in standardizing the way it’s done, other big advertisers and browser providers may have reservations about surrendering much control of the process to Google.


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