Google just gave you the best reason to stop using Chrome


Some time ago, Google said it agreed with the idea that cookies – the small pieces of software code that websites use to do all sorts of things like keep you logged in, let a advertiser when you clicked on their ad and then made a purchase – were bad. At least, the third party type – those who track your internet activity. These types of cookies would be blocked in Chrome by 2023.

Except that because Google, like all advertising platforms, uses cookies to know what kinds of ads to show you, getting rid of them was complicated. In fact, it was not really complicated for Google, which does not even need third-party cookies to know what you are interested in since it literally manages the website where billions of people simply tell it what they are looking for .

Google’s real problem is that it cannot simply completely disable third-party cookies, as this would be very bad for its competitors and could give the impression that it is exploiting the fact that it not only controls the largest platform. form of advertising in the world, but also its most popular web browser, Chrome. Given the attention regulators and lawmakers are giving to big tech companies, it was a no-start.

So Google said it would introduce an alternative known as Federated Cohort Learning, or FLoC. The short version is that Chrome would track your browsing history and use it to identify you as part of a cohort of other users with similar interests. Advertisers would then target ads to the “I like to buy expensive ski gear” cohort, or the “I just turned 50 and I have 2 kids about to go to college and I want to refinance my mortgage”.

That’s not exactly how it works, but you get the basic idea. The thing is, nobody likes FLoC. Privacy experts hate it because it’s not actually more private just because the tracking and profiling happens in your browser. Advertisers and ad tech companies don’t like FLoC because they like cookies. They would generally prefer that Google leave things alone, because cookies let them know exactly when you click on an ad, put something in your shopping cart, and buy it.

Now Google is introducing an alternative it calls Topics. The idea is that Chrome will examine your browsing activity and identify up to five topics that interest you. When you visit a website, Chrome will show it three of these topics, with the idea that the site will then show you an ad that matches your interests.

Google says Chrome will allow users to view topics they are linked to and give them the option to delete them. Google doesn’t ask users if they want to be part of Topics, it just takes advantage of the fact that it owns Chrome to force users into it and then give them a way to opt out if they want . That’s great, except hardly anyone ever will. Google knows this.

More importantly, Google is fundamentally changing the way people view the web browser. In theory, this ubiquitous software is simply a window that lets you access the virtually endless breadth of content on the Internet. Browsers have competed to improve the user experience by supporting better standards and formats, and adding additional utilities, such as extensions that allow you to completely block ads.

For example, Safari and Brave already allow you to block third-party cookies, and they do so with no reservations that there should be another way to target you with ads. Neither browser planned to support FLoC.

“At its core, Google insists on sharing information about people’s interests and behaviors with advertisers, trackers and others on the web who are hostile to privacy,” said Peter Snyder, chief privacy officer. of Brave, in a statement. “These groups have no reason – and no right – to learn such sensitive information about you.”

Ultimately, this change in how Google views Chrome – that it’s not a tool that serves its users, but a tool that serves users to advertisers, albeit a slightly more privacy-protective way – is a bad sign. It’s also the best reason to ditch it altogether.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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