Google announced on Thursday that it will create a “privacy sandbox” for Chrome, in an attempt to give users more control over the web browser. Advertisers, however, will still be able to track consumers, as an engineer at the tech giant says that “large scale blocking of cookies” actually undermines privacy.
“Privacy is paramount to us, in everything we do,” said Google engineer Justin Schuh in a blog post on Thursday. “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.”
With Google’s proposed “Privacy Sandbox,” advertisers will find it more difficult to track search history, giving consumers more choice over the types of data that are being sent to businesses, allowing users to also opt-out of being shown certain ads.
But Schuh claims that “large scale blocking of cookies” actually undermines privacy, as it in turn, encourages “fingerprinting.”
“With fingerprinting, developers have found ways to use tiny bits of information that vary between users, such as what device they have or what fonts they have installed to generate a unique identifier which can then be used to match a user across websites,” said the Google engineer.
“Unlike cookies, users cannot clear their fingerprint, and therefore cannot control how their information is collected,” added Schuh. “We think this subverts user choice and is wrong.”
“Blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web,” continued Schuh. “If this funding is cut, we are concerned that we will see much less accessible content for everyone.”
“Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve started sharing our preliminary ideas for a Privacy Sandbox — a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy,” said the engineer, who added that Google is working to develop new standards “that advance privacy, while continuing to support free access to content.”
“Our goal is to create a set of standards that is more consistent with users’ expectations of privacy,” added Schuh.
Tech giants are now trying to appear more cautious regarding the handling of consumer data amid widespread outrage among users over privacy concerns, and previous mishaps.
Facebook, for example, recently announced its new “Off-Facebook Activity” tool, which — similarly to Google’s proposal — will allow users to see which businesses have tracked them, as well as remove the companies that they do not want sharing their data with Facebook.
“Google is an advertising company, not a group of concerned altruists,” said web developer Mat Marquis to Recode. “There aren’t any charts at stakeholder meetings showing what amount they ‘saved the web’ this past quarter. They’re notorious for overstepping and outright abusing users’ personal data in pursuit of, well, making money as an advertising company.”
“Their business model — the thing that keeps all these genuinely brilliant, genuinely well-meaning designers and developers employed — depends on convincing a company that they can make their users look at your ads,” added Marquis.
Security researcher and consultant Sebastian Bicchi noted that Google’s proposed changes will actually give the tech giant more control over the information of its consumers.
“Google does the right things for the wrong reasons,” said Bicchi to Recode. “It will make a difference, but it also will cement Google’s power in means of information, because Google is already on nearly every side with their data trackers. The difference will be, that only Google will have the data, and more and more website providers will have to rely on Google.”