Google Giving Up User Tracking?

In a blog post earlier this week, Google dropped an interesting technical and privacy-related bomb.

Starting next year, not only will Google’s Chrome browser not support tracking users via 3rd-party cookies, but once they are gone Google will not “build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products”

Instead, the Chrome browser (and Google) will use a Privacy Sandbox feature (also called a FLoC or Federated Learning of Cohorts) that replaces tracking individuals with putting them in interest groups. When you visit a site that serves ads, the Chrome browser (which keeps the interest group information locally) can send that information to the advertisers (through an open API) so that they can serve relevant ads.

While details are definitely scarce so far, this is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, for Google to commit to this so far out means they are confident that this new technology is good enough to continue their remarkable ad revenue figures (almost $150 billion last year).

Second, this will likely put pressure on ad competitors (like Facebook) to adopt similar methods. After all, Facebook hasn’t been shy about hitting back when Apple rolled out features to make users more aware of app tracking. It’s also worth nothing that Google’s announcement only applies websites, not mobile apps.

Finally, it’s not like Google is getting out of the business of collecting information about you. At the bottom of Google’s announcement, they mention how important “first-party relationships” are to Google. That means that when you’re on a Google site (Gmail, Google Maps, etc.), they will be able to more precisely follow your interactions. Presumably the same will apply to Google “partners” (whoever they are).