Google proposes alternative plan to improve web privacy – while keeping the ad tech industry onside


X Scalper

Google is planning to make its ‘Privacy Sandbox’ initiative an official internet standard

Google has proposed a new plan that, it claims, will make web surfing more private – but still enable ad tech firms, like Google, to target web users.

Google’s plan comes in response to an earlier proposal supported by Apple and Firefox that would rein-in the ability of companies like Google to track internet users across the web.

In a blog post, Chrome Engineering director Justin Schuh revealed details of Google’s new initiative, which it called “Privacy Sandbox”, that he claims will boost users’ online privacy.

“Privacy is paramount to us, in everything we do. So today, we are announcing a new initiative to develop a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on the web. We’re calling this a Privacy Sandbox,” Schuh wrote.

“We want to find a solution that both really protects user privacy and also helps content remain freely accessible on the web,” he added.

Google is proposing the use of machine learning to assess web browsers’ interests in order to target them with relevant advertising. The data would be presented to advertisers in the form of a cryptographic token that would abstract or obfuscate identifying information. This will, it claims, enable advertisers to confidently target their ads without directly identify individuals.

Google’s use of cryptographic tokens would also help combat ad fraud.

However, rather than imposing the system via its own Chrome web browser and programmatic advertising network, the company intends to push it as a web standard.

That, however, would undercut moves made by Apple and Firefox to restrict cookies and improve web browsers’ privacy, moves that Google has described as “heavy handed”. Apple’s Safari web browser was the first to block third-party cookies by default, while Firefox automatically deletes third-party cookies when the web browser is closed.

Apple proposed what it has labelled as ‘Intelligent Tracking Prevention’ back in September 2017.

“Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad targeting, which is how ads follow people around the internet,” Apple claimed in a statement to specialist website 9to5Mac.

It continued: “The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.”

While users of any browser can block third-party cookies – or all cookies – via their settings, websites and ad-tech companies can still track users via ‘fingerprinting’.

This enables website operators to profile users in terms of of the data that web browsers provide about users’ PCs, such as screen size, web browser and other information that, aggregated, can form a unique user ID. Unlike cookies, users can’t erase their fingerprint and therefore have no control over how their information is collected by websites.

Internet privacy is becoming an ever-bigger issue for big tech firms, like Apple, Google, and Facebook.

Earlier this year, privacy campaigners filed new evidence to support their claims that Google was not complying with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation by keeping files on internet users’ ethnicity, health, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Last year, Google was also accused of tracking users even when they have the ‘location tracking’ privacy setting switched off.

And in May, a lawyer for Facebook told a judge in the US court that people should not expect privacy on Facebook or any other social media platform as privacy exists on such platforms.

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