Home Web system Google will introduce a new Chrome browser user tracking system

Google will introduce a new Chrome browser user tracking system

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When Google announced a plan two years ago to block digital tracking cookies from its Chrome web browser, the advertising industry and regulators feared the proposal would further cement the search giant’s dominance over search engines. online advertisements.

The outcry eventually forced Google to delay its rollout by nearly two years until the end of 2023.

On Tuesday, Google announced it was scrapping its old plan and offered a new way to block third-party trackers in Chrome with an online advertising system called Topics. The new system would still eliminate cookies, but it would notify advertisers of a user’s areas of interest – such as “fitness” or “autos and vehicles” – based on the last three weeks of a user’s web browsing history. the user. Subjects will be retained for three weeks before being deleted.

Google’s plan to eliminate cookies by the end of next year is a potentially huge change for the digital advertising industry, although it’s unclear whether the new method, which the company will begin testing in the first quarter of this year, will be less alarming. advertisers and regulators. Google Chrome, the most widely used web browser in the world, is used by two out of three people surfing the Internet, according to StatCounter.

Google said in 2019 that it would remove third-party trackers from Chrome through an initiative called Privacy Sandbox. Trackers allow ad services to track users across the web to learn about their browsing habits. The company then unveiled a plan known as Federated Learning Cohorts, or FLoC. It was intended to allow advertisers to target groups of users, based on a common browsing history, rather than individuals.

Apple has also cracked down on advertisers, limiting their ability to track users as they browse the web. Last year, the company introduced App Tracking Transparency, which allows users to block apps from tracking them, a move that has worried Facebook and other major advertisers.

Because marketers rely heavily on cookies to target ads and measure their effectiveness, Google’s privacy proposal has raised concerns that it will strengthen the company’s grip on the industry, as Google already knows a lot about the interests and habits of its users. Privacy experts worried that cohorts would expose users to new forms of tracking.

Google’s proposal has also caught the attention of regulators. The European Union said it was investigating the plan as part of an investigation into Google’s role in the digital advertising market. Last year, the UK Competition and Markets Authority struck a deal with Google to allow the regulator to review changes to trackers in Chrome as part of a settlement of another investigation.

The topics will address some of the concerns raised by privacy advocates about FLoC preventing more covert tracking techniques, Google said. It aims to maintain user privacy by segmenting its audience into larger groups.

Google said there were tens of thousands of potential cohorts under the previous plan, but that would reduce the number of subjects to less than a few thousand. The company said users could see which topics were associated with them and delete them if they wanted.

Google said Topics would use human curators rather than allowing machine learning technology to generate user pools, as the FLoC plan did. This will eliminate the possibility of groups being based on sensitive characteristics such as sexual orientation or race, Google said.

“There have been a few research studies that have shown this to happen,” Vinay Goel, who oversees the Privacy Sandbox initiative at Google, said in an interview. “We found no evidence that this was happening.”

Google’s Topics plan echoes an overhaul made to its search product several years ago. In 2019, the company gave users the option to set their search history to be automatically purged every three or 18 months. This made it more difficult for advertisers to target individuals with highly personalized ads based on their web traffic. Google has also given users the option to completely disable the saving of search histories.

Critics noted that the privacy controls were ineffective because they were difficult for the average person to find, and by default Google continues to keep a permanent record of people’s search histories.