Google revealed that, as part of a plan to phase out third-party cookies, which marketers use to track users, it will start testing a new feature on its Chrome browser. From January 4th, the tech giant will begin its much-awaited purging of the internet’s cookies. It will block them for 1% of Chrome users, or roughly 30 million people. Users will notice a small eyeball logo in the URL bar when Tracking Protection is enabled. In the event of disruption, they will be prompted to deactivate Tracking Protection for particular websites. They will also be given the option to disable it altogether. This marks a significant milestone in Google’s Privacy Sandbox project. The initiative seeks to replace cookies with what it claims is a more effective form of tracking for efficient user privacy.
Google finally intends to phase out third-party cookies
In the second half of 2024, Google intends to fully phase out the use of third-party cookies for users. This marks a significant first step in Google’s Privacy Sandbox Initiative. It aims to replace cookies with an alternative tracking mechanism called “Tracking Protection,” which Google assets in a more privacy-oriented manner. The initiative comes nearly four years after third-party cookies were disabled in Firefox and Safari.
However, the timeline is contingent upon resolving antitrust issues brought forth by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) of the United Kingdom. In addition to keeping an eye on the company’s largest revenue stream, advertising, the CMA has been looking into Google’s proposal to stop supporting some cookies in Chrome. This is because the watchdog is concerned it will hinder competition in the digital advertising space.
How were third-party cookies beneficial to advertisers?
Cookies are unique files that let websites and advertisers track a user’s browsing behavior and identify them individually. Advertisers claim that the removal of cookies from the most widely used browsers in the world will restrict their capacity to gather data for customized advertisements and force them to rely more on Google’s user databases. Online organizations have used third-party cookies as their main method of tracking users’ activities for decades. These cookies give websites the ability to work with different businesses, like Google, to track users’ online activities. A significant change in digital tracking tactics is reflected in the impending demise of third-party cookies.
So-called “third-party cookies” have been the main method used by websites and tech companies to track users online for the past 30 years. For example, after a user has added shoes to their cart, they will see online advertisements for those shoes over time. Third-party cookies come into play here. These cookies enable websites to collaborate with numerous businesses, such as Google, to monitor user activity on the internet. Although it is fantastic for businesses, the fact that so many companies can retain user browsing history is terrible for user privacy.
Privacy Sandbox Initiative
Google stated that users can use the symbol to the right of the address bar to temporarily turn cookies back on for 90 days if necessary. It is incase if the website isn’t functioning properly without third-party cookies. If Chrome detects any problems with a website through indicators like repeated page refreshes, it will prompt the marketer to take this action. Chrome continues to track users, and it does so in a manner different from that of Firefox and Safari. However, the majority of users don’t bother switching browsers, and Google’s brand-new Chrome version is at least better for privacy as it discloses less information about the user’s online activities. As part of the Privacy Sandbox Initiative, Chrome users can choose to enable or disable cookie replacements. If users find the idea objectionable, they can still disable these tools through their browser’s settings.
Optional Tool to disable cookies
Google has added a new set of tools to the Chrome browser. These tools allow it to track users’ online activities in place of third-party cookies. Using this new strategy, users’ data is preserved on their devices by grouping them into discrete “Ad Topics.” Websites can request a user’s classified group but will not obtain personal data. This is different from traditional cookie-based tracking techniques. Websites can ask Google which categories users fall into. However, they will not be able to identify users precisely (at least not with cookies).
A strategic move aligning with rising user privacy concerns
Google’s strategic action is in line with an industry-wide trend toward enhancing user privacy. It is a result of increased regulatory scrutiny and consumer demand for stricter protection against unwanted data tracking and profiling. There will be some bugs because this is a significant alteration to the way the internet functions. Cookies are used for much more than just spying. They also store information about user logins, what they have in their carts, and many other useful features. Despite Google’s efforts to identify and remove malicious cookies, there will always be early failures
Meta is thinking about releasing premium versions of Facebook and Instagram that would be ad-free for users in the European Union, according to The New York Times. These modifications are the result of ongoing regulatory review. It is evidence that, as a result of political decisions, the way Americans and Europeans view technology may diverge. In the European Union, Meta would keep providing free versions of Facebook and Instagram with ads. It is still unknown how much the apps’ commercial versions will be priced or when the company plans to release them.
Ads would not appear in the Facebook and Instagram apps for members. According to the New York Times, three individuals provided information on this matter while maintaining anonymity saying that the plans were classified. Providing customers with an alternative to the company’s ad-based services that depend on analyzing people’s data, may help Meta fight off privacy concerns and other criticism from EU regulators.
Meta and the European Union
Offering users free social networking services and selling advertising space to businesses looking to reach their audience have been the two main focuses of Meta. The premium tier offering would go down as one of the most concrete cases to date of how businesses are being forced to rethink products. Furthermore, it would align with the changing data privacy laws and other governmental regulations, particularly in Europe. The EU and other European regulators have been at odds with Meta over alleged privacy breaches from its ad-tracking services and data transfers. In accordance with GDPR, Meta was fined $1.3 billion by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission for sending European users’ data to the United States. Recent data transfer agreements between the US and the EU have loosened limitations on social media sites.
The court for the European Union effectively forbade Meta from integrating user data gathered across its sites. It contained user-submitted data as well as information from Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Additionally, Irish regulators fined the corporation £390 million in January. They cited requiring users to consent to tailored adverts in order to use Facebook as the reason. In response, Meta has already started providing a way for users in the EU to opt out of receiving targeted advertising. Further, it was suggested that Meta would change it such that everyone in the area could opt-in.
Meta’s commitment to EU expansion
The European Union is made up of 27 nations and about 450 million people. With the changing laws, regulations, and court decisions, consumers in the EU may start to witness distinct forms of consumer technology products. Meta has witnessed the willingness to develop paid memberships. The “Digital Markets Act,” another EU law focusing on advertising, will go into effect at the end of the year. According to Meta, allowing users to choose between using an ad-based service and accessing the paid versions of Facebook or Instagram could allay some of the worries of European regulators. Even if few users choose the paid version, offering it could benefit Meta’s interests in the area. Because of regulatory issues, Meta has yet to launch Threads, a competitor to X in Europe.
Additionally, to overcome its difficulties in Europe, Meta is working to revive its operations. This comes after the worldwide economic unease slowed the expansion of its ad sales. Meta is currently focusing on the immersive virtual environment of the metaverse. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO is promoting the ambitious Metaverse project that is still in its infancy. The development of artificial intelligence technology and their integration into more Meta products are the executives’ main priorities. With this step, Meta is looking to empower its users with choice. The subscription plan is a significant move to strike the right balance between personalized experience and data privacy concerns in this evolving digital landscape.
Google has agreed to pay a historic $391.5 million settlement to 40 states in the U.S over its location tracking practices. Last month, Google paid $85 million to the state of Arizona to settle the claims that the tech giant illegally tracked the location of Android users.
It is alleged that Google misled users into thinking they had disabled location tracking while the company was still collecting their location data. Oregon and Washington jointly led the investigation, which marked the largest privacy settlement by an attorney general. Oregon Attorney General Rosenblum said in the news release,
“For years Google has prioritized profit over their users’ privacy. They have been crafty and deceptive. Consumers thought they had turned off their location tracking features on Google, but the company continued to secretly record their movements and use that information for advertisers.”
In a statement, Michigan-stated Attorney General Dana Nessel said,
“The company’s online reach enables it to target consumers without the consumer’s knowledge or permission. However, the transparency requirements of this settlement will ensure that Google not only makes users aware of how their location data is being used, but also how to change their account settings if they wish to disable location-related account settings, delete the data collected and set data retention limits.”
The settlement aims to help consumers navigate online spaces while protecting their privacy. Location data is a key part of Google’s digital advertising business. Google uses the personal and behavioral data it collects to build detailed user profiles and target ads on behalf of its advertising customers. Location data is among the most sensitive and valuable personal information Google collects. Even a limited amount of location data can expose a person’s identity and routines and can be used to infer personal details.
It was revealed in the settlement that Google misled its users into thinking they had disabled location tracking in their account settings, when in fact it was still collecting their location data. Google has also committed to improving location tracking disclosures and user controls in 2023 as part of the multimillion-dollar settlement with the AGs.
What the settlement requires Google to do?
The settlement requires Google to be more transparent with consumers about its practices. Google must:
– Show additional information to users whenever they turn a location-related account setting “on” or “off”;
– Make key information about location tracking unavoidable for users (i.e., not hidden); and
– Give users detailed information about the types of location data Google collects and how it’s used at an enhanced “Location Technologies” webpage.
The settlement also limits Google’s use and storage of certain types of location information and requires Google account controls to be more user-friendly.
What Google plans to do?
A Google blog post stated that some of the location tracking practices detailed in the settlement had already been corrected by the company.
Google spokesperson told TechCrunch, “Consistent with improvements we’ve made in recent years, we have settled this investigation which was based on outdated product policies that we changed years ago.”
Google said it will also start providing more “detailed” information about the data it collects tracking during the account setup process and is launching a new toggle to turn off and delete your location history and web and app activity “in one simple flow.”
Interesting Read: Google Rolls Out Advert Target Frequency For YouTube Campaigns