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Google Chrome’s recent privacy policy change won't stop targeted ads

Nonetheless, there’s definitely a privacy upside for web surfers

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Photo (c) GiorgioMagini - Getty Images
Sometimes things aren’t as they appear to be. After word from Google headquarters suggested that it was planning to axe third-party tracking cookies and stop selling ads based on tracking in its Chrome browser, reports are circulating that targeted ads aren’t disappearing completely. 

“You’re 100 percent still being targeted,” Elizabeth Renieris, an affiliate of Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, told Yahoo Finance. However, Google approaches its detour a bit softer. 

"People shouldn't have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising,” wrote David Temkin, Google's director of product management, ads privacy and trust. “And advertisers don't need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising," 

Renieris said that while Google won't replace cookies with other tools that track you individually, she believes the company is looking at alternatives that will lump users into bigger groups that have similar interests, which advertisers can buy ads for. An example might be a cosmetics blog where Revlon could take the contextual ad approach and pitch products like lip gloss.

Paying for content?

Privacy purists can moan about this all they like, but the fact remains that advertisements are the lifeblood of almost every site you visit. If there were no ads at all, it’s likely that websites would either have to set up paywalls for content or go to a subscription model. 

"The simple fact is that subscription and paywalls don't work for all publishers, and perhaps more importantly, they don't work for all consumers. Based on a recent survey we conducted on 5,000 U.S. residents as part of research for our 2021 adblock report, only 15 percent of respondents said that they are likely to purchase a paid subscription to access content,” Blockthrough’s Vishveshwar Jatain told ConsumerAffairs.

What Google’s decision means for your browsing habits

The first thing we should clear up is the difference between a “first-party cookie” and a “third-party cookie.” First-party cookies are issued from the site that you’re visiting, and their intent is pretty harmless. Let’s say you visit EPSN.com frequently. Your computer will be sent a cookie from the website that notes what your preferences are (e.g. your favorite team) so that you don’t have to drill down and find the news you’re specifically interested in each time you visit the site.

“On the other hand, advertising firms place third-party cookies on websites to track your online activities,” Yahoo! Finance’s Daniel Howley explains. “These advertisers use the information gleaned from those cookies to follow your activities across the web and feed you ads that line up with your general interests — a practice known as targeted advertising. These cookies can, in theory, be useful too, as they’ll serve ads for products you might actually want to buy.”

Howley says that the change in cookies for Google Chrome users might not be as glaring as it sounds. “If you want an idea of what Chrome will be like when it dumps third-party cookies, go check out Mozilla’s Firefox browser or Apple’s Safari, which have blocked third-party cookies since 2019 and 2020, respectively. It’s not exactly all that different,” Howley said.

At the end of the day, Google’s decision to ditch third-party cookies should still give end users a little more peace of mind when it comes to privacy. 

“Google's decision to kill third-party cookies is at least in part driven by the growing consumer discontent about being tracked online,” Jatain said. “Following this period of necessary change ahead of us, advertising will eventually become more privacy-focused, but it will still continue to play a pivotal role in supporting a free and open internet."

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