The company has decided to scrap a plan to block so-called cookies following regulators and privacy groups protested that Google required to take more steps to protect privacy.
When Google made a decision to remove the use of digital trackers in its Chrome website browser just two years ago the regulators and the advertising industry worried that the move could further strengthen the dominance of Google over online advertisements.
The public outcry eventually led Google to postpone the launch by two years until the end of 2023.
The news came out on Tuesday. Google declared that they were eliminating its previous plan and offered a fresh method of blocking third-party trackers within Chrome by using an online advertising platform called Topics. The new system will be able to block the cookies but will provide advertisers with information about a users’ areas of interestfor example “fitness” or “autos and vehicles” -which is based on the past three weeks of a web browser’s history. The topics will be saved for a period of three weeks before they are removed.
Google’s plans to end cookies at the end of the year could mean a huge change for the advertising market, however it’s not certain what the new strategy that Google will be testing in the beginning of the quarter of this year, will prove to be less threatening to advertisers or regulators. Google Chrome, the world’s most used browser for web browsing is used by nearly more than two-thirds of the users who use the internet in accordance with StatCounter.
Google announced in the year 2019 that it would eliminate third-party trackers within Chrome by launching an initiative known as”the Privacy Sandbox. These trackers permit ad companies to track users on the internet to gather information about their online habits. The company then announced the concept of FLoC, which stands for federated learning of cohorts or FLoC. The idea was to permit advertisers to target users in groups by analyzing their browsing habits, not individual users.
Apple has also stepped up its efforts to stop advertisers, and has stifled their ability to track users when they browse the internet. In 2013, the company announced transparency for apps which allows users to stop apps from tracking their users, which raised concerns about Facebook as well as other big advertisers.
Because marketers heavily rely on cookies to direct advertisements and evaluate their effectiveness Google’s privacy plan caused some to worry that it would bolster the firm’s grip over the market due to the fact that Google already has a lot of information about the habits and interests that its customers. Privacy experts were concerned that the groupings may expose their users to different forms of monitoring.
Google’s plans was also noticed by regulators. In a statement, the European Union said it was reviewing the proposal in the context of an investigation into the role of Google in the market for digital ads. In 2013 the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority reached an agreement with Google to permit the regulator to examine modifications to trackers within Chrome in the context of a settlement to an investigation.
Topics will address some privacy advocates over FLoC which will prevent the spread of covert methods of tracking, Google said. The company aims to safeguard privacy of users by dividing its users into more diversified groups.
Google claimed that it had hundreds of thousands of possible cohorts in the old plan, but the new one reduced in the amount of Topics to less than 1,000. Google said that users will be able to discover the topics that are connected to them and then remove them should they choose to.
“It’s slightly more privacy-protective than FLoC,” said Sara Collins, a senior policy counsel at the public-interest non-profit Public Knowledge. Topic groups with larger size would give users greater privacy However, Google’s plan can be defused through fingerprinting techniques that aim to monitor individual users, she explained.
Google stated that Topics will use human curators, not machine learning to form user groups, like in the FLoC program did. This eliminates the possibility that groups could form based on sensitive aspects such as race or sexual orientation, Google said.
“There were a couple of research studies that showed concern over this happening,” Vinay Goel, who oversees the Privacy Sandbox initiative at Google during an interview. “We didn’t find evidence that it was happening.”
Peter Snyder, director of privacy at Brave an internet-based privacy-focused search engine, stated that the changes to Topics didn’t resolve the fundamental issues raised by Google’s original suggestion.
“At root is Google’s insistence on sharing information about people’s interests and behaviors with advertisers, trackers and others on the web that are hostile to privacy,” Mr. Snyder said in a statement. “These groups have no business — and no right — to learn such sensitive information about you.”
Google’s Topics plan is a reversal of a change made to its search feature some time ago. The company in 2019 provided users the option of setting the history of their searches to purge automatically each three or 18 month period. This made it difficult for advertisers to target users by displaying highly customized advertisements based on their internet browsing habits. Google also offered users the option of removing the recording of search history entirely.
Some critics argued that the privacy measures were not effective since they were hard for the average user to locate. Furthermore, as a the default setting, Google continues to keep the permanent records of its users’ history of searches.