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Third-party Cookies: What are they and what is Google going to do to them?

Google has pledged its alliance to a more privacy friendly web for users.

March 10, 2021 / 06:43 PM IST
Google has also stated that once the old technology is gone, it will not build new ones to track you or at least not in this capacity. (Source: Reuters)

Google has also stated that once the old technology is gone, it will not build new ones to track you or at least not in this capacity. (Source: Reuters)

Google has announced some big changes in the recent days on how it plans to handle recording user activity going forward. The company has now explicitly stated that its going to phase away existing ad technology from its Chrome browser.

The main point of contention here are third-party cookies, which have long been a privacy problem, but also a source of income for major advertisers.

What are Cookies and how do they work? 

While browsing the web, you would have often seen certain websites prompting you with a dialog box to "Accept All" when you open them. If you have ever actually bothered reading what it says in the small text, it basically tells you that you are giving the website permission to put a cookie on your computer.

A cookie is small piece of code that is downloaded to a users computer after consent or in other words, clicking that big "Accept All" button.

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Before you panic, cookies aren't evil (most of them anyway), what they do is gather user activity on the computer they are present on. This data can be related to browsing activity or your interests online.

Some of these cookies are even used to store information on your computer, such as your password or your likes on a particular service. These are designed to be efficient ways for websites to remember a user, so that your experience can be smoother. The flip side? They are probably giving this data away to advertisers.

As you might have guessed, they present a huge privacy problem too as with anything that stores your data. There are also certain tracking cookies that track your activities not just for the site you opted in for but for several sites.

After a huge debate and some big moves by prominent names like Apple and Firefox, Google has now decided to jump in the fray and remove any technology from Chrome that aids third-party cookies.

So after they remove cookies, they will no longer be able to track me? 

Theoretically yes, Google in a recent blog post says, "Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers."

In other words, Google is saying that there are effective alternatives to individual tracking across sites that have so far according to the company, done very well in tests. The alternative Google is proposing is to use group level tracking methods that only use general identifiers like common interests or like-minded groups.

This method will hide all your private information and instead present you as part of a larger group of users, showing only general interests and things you will have in common. This is a less intrusive way of collecting user data.

The problem is that is this is a big setback to advertising companies, the people who rely on that data to sell you products. The ethical ground on invading your privacy to sell you a toothbrush is razor thin.

Google has also stated that once the old technology is gone, it will not build new ones to track you or at least not in this capacity.
Rohith Bhaskar
first published: Mar 10, 2021 05:49 pm

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