Google has been working on a replacement for tracking browser cookies, collectively called the Privacy Sandbox, for a few years now. It’s almost ready for a wide rollout.
Google announced today that the targeted release date for the Privacy Sandbox project is Chrome 115, which is currently scheduled for July 2023. Starting with that version, sites will be able to widely test the Topics API and other features designed for ad targeting and cross-site tracking. Google says the features won’t be immediately enabled for all users — they will be slowly rolled out to watch for potential issues. Privacy Sandbox should also appear in most Chromium-based browsers, such as Microsoft Edge.
The company also revealed that third-party tracking cookies will be turned off for 1% of all Chrome users in the first quarter of 2024. That will be the first real test, and if nothing goes catastrophically wrong, that percentage will likely be increased over time until third-party cookies are completely gone.
Google first announced its plans to replace tracking cookies in 2019, using a technology called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short. It grouped together people with similar browsing histories, then allowed advertisers to target those groups (the “cohorts”) without most of the personally-identifiable information that cookies usually provide to advertisers. Basically, it shifts the responsibility of tracking people across the web and targeting ads to the browser, replacing external databases powered by tracking cookies.
The initial FLoC concept was panned by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, DuckDuckGo, the UK’s competition regulator, and others, because it could have given Google an unfair advantage in advertising and didn’t have enough safeguards. Google went back to the drawing board and created the Topics API in 2022, which still uses the browser to generate groups that advertisers can target, but with more safeguards and more broad categories. It’s still the same fundamental concept as FloC, though — your browser will create a profile of you, and then hand that off to advertisers as you navigate the web.
Privacy Sandbox is more secure than third-party tracking cookies, but “privacy” is definitely not the right term.
Source: Google, TechCrunch
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