On 22nd August, Chrome’s Director of Engineering published a blog post putting forward Google’s vision for a more private web. The post starts so well:
Technology that publishers and advertisers use to make advertising even more relevant to people is now being used far beyond its original design intent - to a point where some data practices don’t match up to user expectations for privacy.
Of course not.
Instead, Google puts forward the following illogical argument:
Large scale blocking of cookies undermine people’s privacy by encouraging opaque techniques such as fingerprinting.
Google employs seriously smart people - surely they can spot the fallacy in this argument? I will handover to two Princeton University privacy-specialising professors to take apart their line of reasoning:
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?’
Better the Devil You Know? 👹
Google is trying to argue that 3rd party tracking cookies aren’t that bad, and we should accept them as part of the fabric of the internet. If we start blocking cookies, then even more insidious technologies will spring-up and begin harvesting our data. Better the devil you know ... right?
While browser fingerprinting may be a more opaque tracking method than cookies, it doesn’t mean we have to accept the lesser of two evils. Pickpocketing or muggings is a false dilemma. And, it doesn’t mean that, if cookies were universally blocked that advertisers would necessarily find more invasive means of tracking. Who knows, they might actually employ privacy respecting solutions instead (like Glimpse, for example).
So why is Google so keen to keep tracking cookies?
Misdirection … 🧙♂️
I’d guess that 90% of you who read this far understand why.
Directing attention and concern towards fingerprinting rather than cookies protects Google’s biggest revenue stream. An energetic defence of tracking cookies is synonymous with an energetic defence of their business model.
The title of Google’s blog post, ‘Building a more private web’, is disingenuous. Perhaps, ‘Protecting the status quo’ would be a more accurate headline? Big companies are capable of making strategic shifts based on a changing environment of ethics, regulation, and consumer demand. Just look at Volkswagen. So Google’s misdirection here must be rejected.
It’s a shame that Chrome won’t lead on this issue, but it’s worse that they insinuate enhancements made by Safari and Firefox are damaging consumer privacy.
To learn more about Glimpse Protocol …