Google’s About Face On Tracking & Privacy

Tech giant Google has long been recognized as one of the greatest collectors of user data, if not the greatest. Now, in what can only be described as a remarkable turnaround, Google has recently announced that it is set to move away from its traditional business model with plans to eliminate third-party cookies, the primary source of data tracking, and enhance privacy by introducing a “Privacy Sandbox”.

People shouldn’t have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don’t need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising. That’s why last year Chrome announced its intent to remove support for third-party cookies, and why we’ve been working with the broader industry on the Privacy Sandbox to build innovations that protect anonymity ~ <source>

Google will begin testing its privacy-preserving APIs, such as the Federated Learning of Cohorts API (FloC), later this month and Chrome users will also get access to new privacy controls in April.

With the Chrome 90 release in April, we’ll be releasing the first controls for the Privacy Sandbox (first, a simple on/off), and we plan to expand on these controls in future Chrome releases ~ <source>

It’s surprising to see these sorts of statements coming from Google, a company that has built an empire by monetizing users’ browsing data. Considering Google’s supreme domination in key areas — with the most popular browser, search engine, webmail client, and video hosting service on the planet — it is highly unlikely that it has anything to do with fearing the opposition. One would like to think that maybe Google is bowing to pressure from increasing privacy concerns among the using public and a general trend toward more privacy-centric applications and services. However, I seriously doubt that is the case– Google does not have a history of bowing to pressure and has always, more or less, been a law unto itself.

My guess is that increasing scrutiny from the EU, US, and other governments with the prospect of tighter regulations around data privacy is pretty much forcing Google’s hand. Let’s face it, if Google shows that it is making a good-faith effort now towards enhancing privacy protections, it will go a long way to assuaging governments’ concerns. Also, as far as public perception is concerned, it has to be in Google’s favor to appear to be voluntarily taking these steps rather than being forced to do so via government regulations. Besides, the tech giant is so filthy rich now it can certainly afford the appearance of benevolence.

Google, the privacy-oriented company!? Whatever next!?

11 thoughts on “Google’s About Face On Tracking & Privacy”

  1. If you can’t trust Google with your privacy, who can you trust? They are the company that had the motto “Do no evil” and they never have………………

    No seriously, there is a good article by the EFF (a nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world since 1990) going over The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (a favorite movie BTW) and the Ugh of Google’s Privacy Sandbox in more detail:

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/08/dont-play-googles-privacy-sandbox-1

    There is some good, but more bad in the Privacy Sandbox

    1. Good read from the EFF JD. Love the closing sentence:

      At the end of the day, Google is an advertising company that happens to make a browser.

      While I do agree with much of the EFF’s assessment, I also believe it is still a little early to be making definitive judgements. At this stage, these are preliminary proposals from Google with a lot of refining still to be done. It will be interesting to see how it all comes out in the wash.

      1. Jim, it is not too far off. Those interested in Privacy Sandbox can enable the Settings already in Chrome Canary and Chromium.

        Here is how that is done:

        Load chrome://flags in the Google Chrome address bar.
        Search for privacy sandbox using the search field at the top.
        Set Privacy Sandbox Settings to Enabled.
        Restart Google Chrome.
        The flag adds the Privacy Sandbox option to Chrome’s Settings. You find a new link under Settings > Privacy and security.

        My guess is pieces of Privacy Sandbox will start showing up later this year and will be full implemented by this time next year.

        JD

        1. Yes, I’m well aware the sandboxing feature itself is close JD but it is still under ongoing development and a long way off the finished product. This from Google:

          In April, we’ll be releasing the first controls for the Privacy Sandbox and we plan to expand on these controls in future Chrome releases, as more proposals reach the origin trial stage, and we receive more feedback from end users and industry.

          The whole thing is subject to changes so, while the EFF’s report will no doubt help keep Google on the straight and narrow, it is still a tad premature to be passing judgement.

        2. Jim,

          Yes, it is still developing. I’m not as trusting in Google as you are. But, I would guess that Google will stick more to it’s original plan for Privacy Sandbox.

          For 20 years, the 3rd party cookie has been the main stay of Google’s advertising surveillance. With some privacy focused browsers and extensions, the end user now has some control. Users get to decide what information to share with each site they choose to interact with it without worrying that their past browsing will be used against them—or leveraged to manipulate them—when they open the next tab.

          With Privacy Sandbox, a user’s behavior will follow them from site to site as a label –extremely valuable to an ad company like Google. It is like a super finger print, or ID for Google to know everything about what you are doing. Much more powerful than Google’s current fingerprinting and surveillance methods.

          Jim, privacy sandbox will only have changes for the better if everyone is extremely skeptical of Google’s ambition, now. If you, even slightly, believe that Google will do the right thing when it comes to privacy, I have a really nice bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. We have seen that Google has not done this in the past (When their motto was “Do no Evil”). They don’t even pretend to have that motto, now. Why should we believe that Google is going to change now? Just look at what they proposed with Privacy Sandbox!

          JD

  2. Hi Jim,
    I will stand on the sidelines and wait to see if Google intend to play a fair game.
    ‘Trust us’ and ‘Guarantees’ are no longer riding on truth and honour in the world today.
    Regards,
    Jonno.

  3. Don’t be too naive Jim. They are only pretending to change their tune because they fear the wrath of politicians and the mood to put these companies under the microscope so they are trying to get ahead of the game. They’ll have a cunning plan somewhere. “Smoke and mirrors”.

    Clearly those who think of Google as benign because they can get “free stuff” haven’t learned the lesson their parents (should have) taught them – “Nothing in life is free” or “there is no such thing as a free lunch”.

    Try asking top Republicans in the US including President Trump what they think of Big Tech. Google (as YouTube), Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon have all de-platformed Republicans and authors who don’t happen to agree with their “woke” narratives and Leftist beliefs.

    As far as I am concerned they are the Evil Empire and Darth Vader would
    happily recruit them all in a heartbeat. The sooner Google, Twitter and Facebook are broken up into small pieces so that they can’t wield their enormous excessive power over the likes of us the better. And the US needs stronger laws to prevent these private oligarchical companies from being able to discriminate against people based on their political or moral beliefs.

    I’d rather pay for stuff then get it for free and have to sell my soul to get it. Fact Check TRUE !

    1. It’s not very often I’m accused of being naïve Reg. I did make more or less the same point:

      My guess is that increasing scrutiny from the EU, US, and other governments with the prospect of tighter regulations around data privacy is pretty much forcing Google’s hand. Let’s face it, if Google shows that it is making a good-faith effort now towards enhancing privacy protections, it will go a long way to assuaging governments’ concerns.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

WHY NOT SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER?

Get great content like this delivered to your inbox!

It's free, convenient, and delivered right to your inbox! We do not spam and we will not share your address. Period!