Could Google Chrome be about to offer more user privacy?

This blog posts relates to cookies – not the nice, sweet tasting ones, but the ones that store information on your computer about your visits to websites. Google has put forward an idea to replace tracking cookies on its Chrome browser with a system that would give out less data to advertisers. This in turn would offer users more privacy, although advertisers won’t be so keen on it because it would have impact for their revenues.

The proposal has already attracted attention from the Competition & Markets Authority – a sign that it is being taken seriously and could have wide implications if it actually came to pass. This body have already said that any change would have “significant impact,” although Google argue that as time and browsing habits evolve, so advertising needs to undergo a transformation to keep pace with this.

What actually are cookies?

(We still aren’t talking about the biscuits!) Cookies as already indicated become stored on a persons computer once they have visited a web page. They can ‘remember’ what a person has done, or perhaps items they have expressed interest in for shopping websites. This then allows for advertisers to tweak their targets based on what they think the user may want or need. Cookies can also be used to manage and follow activity that an online user makes. A lot of people are aware of this, but some are not, and some are very surprised at what they would find as the intrusion of privacy that this naturally brings about. This is not the limit of the scope of cookies either. Some cookies can go even further than this (called cross site or third party) and this allows users to be tracked across multiple sites – compromising a individuals right to privacy even further some would argue.

Under Google’s proposals all cookies would end for the Chrome browser, except for ones related to their own site. Google still supports advertising and advertisers, but would like the user to have more control of their privacy by providing generalised trends and data to advertisers, rather than something which can target or even identify people or groups of users individually.

As expected, the advertisers are not happy about this and have voiced some strong concern. Some claim that Chrome is installed and used by 70% of all users and consequently this could see advertisement revenue drop by over two-thirds. They also claim that far from protecting users privacy further, this would actually increase the power and monopoly of the Google ‘machine.’ This will reduce the chance of competition within the commerce and digital industries, ultimately meaning that users will be worse off in the long run anyway.

Until recently, final say on commercial and competition decisions at this level and involving companies like Google were decided in Europe, but since Brexit this has now passed to the Competition & Markets Authority in the UK.

We await to see any developments and the impact this could have on website users and advertisers, but it could get very interesting!

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