Google steps up efforts to protect privacy, prevent misuse of browsing data

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Updated: August 23, 2019 12:11:05 PM

According to Google, publishers' ad revenue drops 52% when browsers block the text files called cookies used to track our behaviour and target ads.

Google ads, advertising, chrome, fingerprinting, google, internet, privacy, privacy sandbox, apple, gmail, facebookThe sandbox appears to be a major development in an area where Google’s Chrome has lagged from its competitors

Google has proposed to develop a set of open standards that would allow for personalised ads without infringing on user’s privacy. The “Privacy Sandbox” is designed to limit web fingerprinting and protect user’s privacy while keeping Google’s ad business intact. The sandbox appears to be a major development in an area where Google’s Chrome browser has lagged from its competitors. Browsers already include security sandboxes, restrictions designed to confine malware and limit its possible damage. The proposed privacy sandbox from Google would perform similar functions and restrict tracking technology.

The privacy sandbox is “a secure environment for personalisation that also protects user privacy”. In a blog post, Justin Schuh, director of Chrome engineering, says, “Our goal is to create a set of standards that is more consistent with users’ expectations of privacy.” If the privacy sandbox is accepted by websites and advertisers, it could prove to be a major leap in addressing privacy concerns on Google.

The tech giant’s free services such as search and Gmail show ads. Google is also one of the biggest companies other website and app publishers use to show ads. In its browser, protecting privacy is at odds with Google’s ad business.

Publishers focus more on “targeted ads” as these are customised according to the preferences that websites and advertisers infer from users’ online behaviour. According to Google, publishers’ ad revenue drops 52% when browsers block the text files called cookies used to track our behaviour and target ads.

Privacy is a major concern for many tech companies including Google, Apple and Facebook. Blocking cookies has been widely regarded to fix this problem but at the same time, it limits the ability to deliver relevant ads. Apple’s Safari is one such browser that does so. Firefox has begun blocking tracking by default.

The problem with blocking tracking cookies is that some websites and advertisers deploy more invasive means such as fingerprinting to profile people when cookies are blocked. “Blocking cookies without another way to deliver relevant ads significantly reduces publishers’ primary means of funding, which jeopardizes the future of the vibrant web,” Schuh said.

Fingerprinting allows developers to use tiny bits of information that vary from one user to another, such as what device they have or what fonts they have installed. This helps in generating a unique identifier which can then be used to match a user across websites. Unlike cookies, users cannot clear their fingerprint and thus it limits their choice as the users lose control on how their information is collected.

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