Will the end of cookies be the end of internet tracking?
Every time you do anything on the internet, you are being tracked. how the last part on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver explains that there is a lot of money to be made from widespread data collection. It can be used sell products, target potential votersand even just fool people.
Cookies are one of the most common tracking tools. They are short text files added to your browser that store data related to your visits to various websites. While they have beneficial uses, such as keeping you logged in or saving your preferences on websites you visit frequently, they can also be used for more nefarious purposes. Since the mid-2000s, cookies and other forms of personalized third-party tracking have been used by ad networks, including Google, Facebook, Instagram, Amazon and many others, and data brokers to track user activity on the Internet. A cookie can be used as a unique identifier for you that follows you around the Internet. They’re a key part of how a web search for a product on your computer can lead to you seeing an ad for it on your smartphone’s social media feeds.
Apple was the first major consumer technology company to position itself as privacy first. Its Safari browser has blocked some third-party cookies since 2017 and all third-party cookies since 2020. In 2021, it also introduced a feature where apps should ask users for explicit permission to track them. (Facebook’s parent company Meta claims that only this latest update will happen Facebook’s loss was $10 billion this year).
[Related: DuckDuckGo’s new Mac browser aims to put privacy first]
Firefox has also blocked some third-party cookies since 2019, and Introduced Total Cookie Protection in 2021 which sends each site’s cookies to its own separate “cookie jar” that prevents sharing of information with other sites. There has also been a rise in privacy browsers with DuckDuckGo and Brave, which take an even more aggressive stance on blocking tracking. Both use their own search engines as well as other privacy-oriented features, such as easy data deletion, to limit how much data can be collected from your browsing activities.
Even Google is getting in on the action. It will be start blocking third-party cookies in his Chrome browser (the world’s most popular browser) in 2023, although that is about a year later than originally planned.
For all this, internet tracking does not go away. The methods will simply change. For example, Google announced that it is replacing cookies with a new feature called Themes. And how? in the article The New York Times speculates, current fixes may best serve entrenched interests rather than consumers or small businesses. When third-party tracking is restricted, it can be harder to track users as they move between different apps and services, but not if they stay within the same ecosystem. If you are signed in to your Google Account in Google Chrome, use Google to search the web and watch videos on YouTube, Google does not need cookies to track you; it has a lot of data already linked to your account. Likewise, while Apple largely blocks third parties from collecting data about its users, it still has access to an impressive amount of information. Meta’s Facebook and Instagram won’t be able to track what you view on Amazon, but they still have a record of who you follow and interact with. Large technology companies appear to be in the strongest positions going forward.
However, this is all still up in the air. Internet tracking is in transition. It is the European Union charging increasingly large fines For breaches of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws, which can start to skew the risk calculation for some companies. Efforts are also being made to block these new forms of tracking;both DuckDuckGo and Brave Just announced that their browsers will bypass Google’s AMP pages, one of the ways Google used its size to track users further. Internet tracking will definitely continue, but, fingers crossed, it might get better.