April 15, 2024

An internet without cookies? Google takes steps to end third-party cookies

Everywhere you go on the Internet, in one form or another the same question appears: “Do you want to allow the use of cookies?”

Where you click, where you spend time, what site you came from and when you return – information like this, stored on your computer and in your phone’s browser, has become a key pillar of personalized online advertising.

However, pressure on browser companies like Google is growing as users become increasingly aware (and frustrated) of the lack of data security, with many in the industry predicting a so-called “cookieless future.” “.

Following efforts by Apple and Firefox developer Mozilla to block third-party cookies, Google also wants to remove them from its Chrome web browser this year.

The company took its first step at the beginning of the year. Since January 4, about 1% of random Chrome browser users have had access to third-party cookies restricted by default as part of a test, the company says.

In the second half of the year, these cookies will be completely removed, according to Google, in a historic step for a technology company that is, among other things, one of the largest advertising companies in the world.

However, cookie ads that appear when you open a page will remain in effect for the time being.

What is changing in Chrome?

First of all, what are cookies? These are small files that a browser stores on our online devices to help us remember certain things.

Since these files often contain unique identifiers, websites can use them to recognize their visitors. Browsers need them to remember a person’s login or the contents of a shopping cart.

But above all, cookies make personalized advertising possible. Third-party cookies, which are not set by the visited website itself, but rather by embedded content from other sites, are particularly controversial.

They allow advertising service providers to track users across multiple pages and create profiles for advertising purposes.

Third-party cookies allow third-party vendors to “track users at a very granular level across different websites,” says Lidia Schneck, Google partner manager.

With the so-called Privacy Sandbox this should be limited in the future, so that advertising providers only receive very limited information about users’ interests “to prevent a user from being identified or recognized.”

For this, various applications have been developed together with the industry. Starting later this year, third-party providers will no longer be able to track individual browsing behavior of Chrome users across different websites, Google says.

Instead, the websites a user visits will be tagged with general advertising topics such as “sports,” “travel,” or “pets.”

The browser records the user’s most frequent topics, saves them locally on the end device and, if requested, shares with advertising providers a maximum of three advertising topics over the last three weeks.

The goal is to display ads that are relevant to the user without advertisers knowing which specific websites they have visited. In Chrome settings, users can see what ad themes have been assigned to them and make changes if necessary.

Good for Google, bad for users, says the advertising industry

However, the advertising industry has criticized the planned abolition of third-party cookies, stating that it benefits the tech giants, not individual users.

According to Bernd Nauen, CEO of the Central Association of the German Advertising Industry (ZAW), this will not strengthen data protection, but rather Google’s dominant position in the advertising market.

“In the long term, consumers would be at a disadvantage. Which does not mean: less tracking by Google, less data on Google,” says Nauen.

This is because Google’s vast amount of data is primarily based on first-party data, which Google collects itself through user logins, its own first-party cookies, or search queries.

Outside of Google services and some other “mega platforms,” deleting cookies would mean that users could only be shown ads based on their supposed interests to a very limited extent, Nauen says.

“Returning to spam, pop-ups and excessive advertisements on topics that turn me off rather than interest me is certainly not the solution.”

According to the ZAW association, the advertising industry’s room for maneuver should not be restricted by individual platforms dominating the market.

Such controls should fall to governments, says the advertising industry, calling on competition authorities to examine these developments.

Consumer advocates skeptical

Digital privacy advocates see things differently and are generally critical of all forms of tracking and profiling for advertising purposes, says Florian Glatzner, a consumer protection consultant based in Germany.

The problem is not limited to one technology, such as third-party cookies, he maintains, and in some cases advertising is specifically tailored to consumers’ weaknesses. “This jeopardizes the protection of personal data and privacy, allows manipulation and promotes discrimination.”

Consumers are also often unable to predict the extent and consequences of their consent. “The online advertising market and the technologies that support it (such as the privacy sandbox) are too complex, too opaque and too difficult to control,” explains Glatzner.

Instead of hiding user tracking behind a tech company’s solution, Glatzner says, profiling for advertising purposes should be banned entirely.

Following efforts by Apple and Firefox developer Mozilla to block third-party cookies, Google also wants to remove them from its Chrome web browser this year.  Catherine Waibel/dpa

Following efforts by Apple and Firefox developer Mozilla to block third-party cookies, Google also wants to remove them from its Chrome web browser this year. Catherine Waibel/dpa

Cookies are small files that a browser stores on a user's online device.  Since these files often contain unique identifiers, websites can use them to recognize their visitors.  A browser uses them to remember a login or the contents of a virtual shopping basket.  Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/dpaCookies are small files that a browser stores on a user's online device.  Since these files often contain unique identifiers, websites can use them to recognize their visitors.  A browser uses them to remember a login or the contents of a virtual shopping basket.  Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/dpa

Cookies are small files that a browser stores on a user’s online device. Since these files often contain unique identifiers, websites can use them to recognize their visitors. A browser uses them to remember a login or the contents of a virtual shopping basket. Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/dpa

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