Google Chrome has officially launched its “Privacy Sandbox” feature for tracking user behavior within the browser, reducing reliance on third-party cookies. The rollout, initially to a limited user base, has now expanded to encompass approximately 97% of users, with plans to onboard the remaining 3% over the next few months, according to a recent blog post from Google.
Critics from the privacy advocacy community have voiced concerns about this new tracking system. However, Google defends its implementation, arguing that the Privacy Sandbox is a necessary step to eliminate the use of third-party cookies and fingerprinting techniques. A significant number of websites, approximately 80%, utilize Google’s Adsense service to display ads on their pages. To effectively target these ads to readers, Adsense employs cookies, which monitor users’ activities as they navigate various websites, gathering data to determine their potential interest in products. These cookies, generated by Google rather than the visited website, are commonly referred to as “third-party cookies.”
Notably, some competing advertising platforms, like Microsoft Ads, also rely on third-party cookies. Privacy advocates have criticized this practice, leading some users to seek methods to block such tracking. Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Brave’s browser have all implemented default measures to block third-party cookies. Google Chrome users also have the option to block these cookies through their browser settings.
In a blog post from January 2020, Google argued against default third-party cookie blocking in browsers until a viable alternative tracking system was developed. The post expressed concerns that blocking these cookies could inadvertently promote the use of more invasive techniques such as fingerprinting, which could compromise user privacy and control.
Google’s recent announcement on September 7th reiterates these concerns, emphasizing the importance of having privacy-preserving alternatives like the Privacy Sandbox. Google asserts that without such alternatives, there’s a risk of limiting access to information for all users and potentially encouraging invasive tactics like fingerprinting.
Google Chrome’s Privacy Sandbox introduces a method of tracking user data directly within the browser, aiming to enhance privacy by reducing reliance on third-party cookies. However, Google has clarified that it won’t enable the blocking of third-party cookies by default at this time.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital privacy advocacy group, has raised questions about the Privacy Sandbox’s efficacy in enhancing privacy. They argue that, despite the shift from cookies to in-browser tracking, this approach may still be invasive in some respects.
The new Chrome interface allows users to control Privacy Sandbox through various settings within the “Ad privacy” menu, offering flexibility in managing their online tracking preferences.