Google To Launch New Privacy Tools To Limit Cookies
Chrome users will get more information on what cookies are tracking them and how to block them. Google To Launch New Privacy Tools To Limit Cookies
Google is set to launch new tools to limit the use of tracking cookies, a move that could strengthen the search giant’s advertising dominance and deal a blow to other digital-marketing companies, according to people familiar with the matter.
After years of internal debate, Google could as soon as this week roll out a dashboard-like function in its Chrome browser that will give internet users more information about what cookies are tracking them and offer options to fend them off, the people said.
This is a more incremental approach than less-popular browsers, such as Apple Inc.’s Safari and Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox, which introduced updates to restrict by default the majority of tracking cookies in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Google’s move, which could be announced at its developer conference in Mountain View, Calif., starting Tuesday, is expected to be touted as part of the company’s commitment to privacy—a complicated sell, given the torrent of data it continues to store on users—and press its sizable advantage over online-advertising rivals.
The unit of Alphabet Inc. is the world’s largest digital ad seller. The coming changes aren’t expected to significantly curtail Google’s ability to collect data. Google To Launch New
A cookie is a small text file stored in an internet browser that lets companies silently follow users around the internet, gathering information such as which sites they have visited and what ads they have viewed or clicked. Initially developed in 1994 to help e-commerce sites remember when a user had placed an item in a shopping cart, cookies have since become ubiquitous across the web—and reviled by privacy advocates and many users.
Yet cookies also boost competition in the advertising landscape by allowing hundreds of digital firms—large and small—to collect their own user data and sell higher-priced ads based on it. Any restriction on them is a boon to the biggest tech companies, including Google, which can target ads based on the slew of other information it collects on users through its many products.
If the new Google tools prompt users to broadly reject tracking cookies, some people in the industry think it could mean the long-predicted demise of a technology that is both widely criticized and used.
“It really strikes at the Achilles’ heel of the ad tech ecosystem,” said Ratko Vidakovic, a Toronto-based consultant in the digital ad industry.
Google has been working on the cookies plan for its Chrome browser—which commands almost two-thirds of the desktop-browser market share—for at least six years, in stops and starts. Work accelerated in the past year, after the personal data of tens of millions of Facebook users was improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked on President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The delay by Google was partly due to the technological complexity of the project. Google had considered creating a so-called browser identifier—linked to everything a user does, which advertisers could see—that could be easily toggled on or off by users. However, they trashed the plan because it required changing millions of lines of code and potentially renegotiating thousands of outside agreements, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The importance of cookies has been waning as users move their web activity to smartphones, as they only work within browsers and cannot be used within apps.
Google in recent months invited advertising executives to its offices in Mountain View and New York to sound them out on the shift—on the condition they sign nondisclosure agreements. People who attended the meetings said the company was tight-lipped on the details of its cookies project, instead floating hypothetical scenarios and asking for opinions.
Criteo’s chief executive during its recent quarterly earnings call flagged risks due to coming restrictions on cookies, and said the company was working to become less reliant on cookies.
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