Google To Restrict Cookies Set By Ad Networks

Google's Chrome browser plans to limit tracking by ad-tech companies by requiring third-party cookies to be encrypted, the company said Tuesday.

The new setting, which will take effect next month, is part of a larger move toward phasing out third-party cookies within two years.

Google also says it is launching new measures aimed at blocking fingerprinting -- a controversial tracking technique that involves identifying users based on data about their computers, including operating systems, IP addresses, browser versions, installed fonts and plug-ins.

Other browser developers have taken more aggressive steps to curb tracking by ad networks. Mozilla's newest version of Firefox automatically prevents digital fingerprinting by blocking third-party requests to companies believed to use the technology.

Firefox, as well as Apple's Safari, also automatically prevent ad-tech companies from using cookies to track people around the web in order to serve them targeted ads.

Google says that blocking third-party cookies altogether may have “unintended consequences that can negatively impact both users and the web ecosystem” by encouraging techniques like fingerprinting.

But privacy advocates have questioned the company's logic.

“Cookie blocking does not undermine web privacy. Google’s claim to the contrary is privacy gaslighting,” privacy experts Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan said in August.

“To appreciate the absurdity of this argument, imagine the local police saying, 'We see that our town has a pickpocketing problem. But if we crack down on pickpocketing, the pickpocketers will just switch to muggings. That would be even worse. Surely you don’t want that, do you?'” they write on the Freedom to Tinker blog. “While fingerprinting is indeed a privacy invasion, that’s an argument for taking additional steps to protect users from it, rather than throwing up our hands in the air.”

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