Google has promised not to introduce new web tracking tools as it begins to phase out third-party cookies from its Chrome browser.
The advertising giant made its commitment in a blog post from the product management director of its Ads Privacy and Trust team, David Temkin.
“We’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products,” Temkin said.
“Instead, our web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”
Those APIs are part of Google’s ‘privacy sandbox’: a project looking to replicate the function of cross-site trackers and third-party cookies (ie. knowing a person’s interests and personality based on their internet activity) without explicitly following individuals.
Without a hint of irony, Temkin said people “shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web” to get the “benefits” of targeted advertising that is the core of Google’s business model.
“Advances in aggregation, anonymisation, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers,” he continued.
“In fact, our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.”
FLoC, the Federated Learning of Cohorts, is one way Google proposes to understand netizens’ evolving internet usage while preserving anonymity.
Rather than its current method of collecting the trail of cookies and trackers you leave across the web to pinpoint your interests, FLoC will group Chrome users – and presumably other Google service users – into ‘cohorts’ featuring thousands of people with similar internet behaviour.
The idea is for these cohorts be large enough that the individuals within are effectively anonymised and reached by advertisers based on their group participation, rather than unique behaviour.
An individual’s cohort will be generated based on their locally stored browsing history, keeping the actual activity data separate from what is used to sell advertising.
Google is actively testing the efficacy of cohorts as a way to profile and predict the behaviour of internet users without the need for personally identifiable information and has published early experiments into the use of the SimHash algorithm to generate cohort profiles from large data sets.
The company’s move toward building an anonymity-driven advertising ecosystem has drawn the attention of UK competition regulator the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) which began investigations into the ‘privacy sandbox’ in January.
The CMA is concerned Google’s push to remove third-party cookies from its popular browser – in favour of its own technology – could further entrench the advertising giant’s dominant market position.