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Google to phase out third-party tracking cookies in its Chrome browser

Personal privacy is finally getting the attention from Big Tech that it deserves

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Photo (c) Rutmer Visser - Getty Images
The world of cookies -- the kind that allows a company to follow you around from website to website  -- is about to get a shake-up from one of the pre-eminent deployers of web cookies, Google.

The tech giant has announced plans to phase out support for third-party cookies used with its Chrome web browser. The phase-out could take a couple of years, but it will certainly be a relief for online users who are incessantly shadowed by banners and content trying to score a click or a sale under the guise of delivering a tailored website experience.

Why it matters

Google’s Chrome browser is the most widely used desktop browser in the U.S., and it has been since 2008. On top of that, Chrome is right behind Apple’s Safari as the most widely used mobile browser in the U.S.

With Google taking Chrome out of the cookie contest, that means nearly 3 billion consumers can hopefully feel a little less like someone’s watching their every move. Google has been a little slow on the uptake of cookie removal compared to Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox, which started blocking third-party cookies by default in their browsers last year. Mozilla went the extra mile by initializing a browsing history project to help consumers dupe advertisers that were trying to hoodwink Firefox’s system.

Big Tech is starting to understand that privacy matters

Having suffered through a scourge of privacy breaches over the past few years, ranging from Words With Friends players to Marriott Hotel customers, consumers have had just about enough of companies having their way with online data. Finally, it seems that Big Tech is getting that message.

“Users are demanding greater privacy--including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used--and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands. Some browsers have reacted to these concerns by blocking third-party cookies, but we believe this has unintended consequences that can negatively impact both users and the web ecosystem,” wrote Justin Schuh, the Director of Chrome Engineering at Google.

“By undermining the business model of many ad-supported websites, blunt approaches to cookies encourage the use of opaque techniques such as fingerprinting (an invasive workaround to replace cookies), which can actually reduce user privacy and control. We believe that we as a community can, and must, do better.”

Tracking isn’t going away entirely

Not only is this a game-changer for the end-user, but it’s also a game-changer for digital advertising and marketing companies -- one that forces them to put privacy ahead of almost everything else. 

“For decades, advertisers relied on cookies to track users across the web and to retarget them with ads, particularly on their desktops,” wrote Sara Fischer, author of Axios’ Media Trends.

“Over the past few years, marketers began moving away from using cookies to track user browser data and instead developed better methods of tracking people across the web. These tactics are considered more effective and secure, especially since fewer people use desktop browsers these days, and most rely more heavily on mobile.”

In an update, Fischer noted that Google has been testing a new software interface called Federated Learning of Cohorts -- a privacy-friendly substitute for cookies. However, the company’s plan for data gathered from the browser is never shared. “Instead, the data from the much wider cohort of thousands of people is shared, and that is then used to target ads,” Fischer said.

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