Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Exploring Google’s Flimsy Proposal for Web Privacy Protections

I’m sure many of you have already read this piece by Jonathan Mayer and Arvind Narayanan on Freedom to Tinker regarding Google’s proposal for a “privacy budget” to allow them to keep tracking users with something resembling privacy in mind, but I thought it was worth linking to for this paragraph alone:

Apple and Mozilla have tracking protection enabled, by default, today. And Apple is already testing privacy-preserving ad measurement. Meanwhile, Google is talking about a multi-year process for a watered-down form of privacy protection. And even that is uncertain — advertising platforms dragged out the Do Not Track standardization process for over six years, without any meaningful output. If history is any indication, launching a standards process is an effective way for Google to appear to be doing something on web privacy, but without actually delivering.

Something that occurred to me after I read several articles about this proposal is that Google wins with any outcome, so long as Chrome remains the world’s most popular browser and we exclude the possibility of regulatory action. If it gets stuck in standards processing hell or gets rejected, Google gets to keep abusing users’ privacy in exactly the same way; if it gets approved, Google gets a slightly different way of targeting users with privacy-robbing ads.

Of course, if cookie-blocking practices and technologies similar to Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention were more widespread, and people chose a non-Chrome browser, it could critically impact Google’s business model and perhaps prompt them to think harder about the tradeoffs they’re expecting web users to make.