With 2.6 billion users, Google Chrome is one of the most popular browsers as of yet, however, a recent tracking admission from Google may affect these statistics.
Behind the seemingly efficient latest marketing and feature updates, Chrome is actually hiding its terrible privacy and security situation. In reality, it has failed to come at par with its rivals to protect users from tracking and data harvesting, it has postponed the plan to quit third-party cookies, and the technology it had promised would prevent its users from being profiled and tracked, made everything worse.
Firefox Developer Mozilla warns, ‘Ubiquitous surveillance… harms individuals and society. Chrome is the only major browser that does not offer meaningful protection against cross-site tracking… and will continue to leave users unprotected.’
Ironically, Google admits that such ubiquitous web tracking is out of control and resulted in ‘an erosion of trust… [where] 72% of people feel that almost all of what they do online is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or others, and 81% say the potential risks from data collection outweigh the benefits.’
Despite acknowledging that this tracking undermines user privacy, how can Google still permit such tracking on its flagship browser? Money. Simply put: if Google decides to restrict tracking, it will face a significant reduction in ad revenue from targeting users with political messages, sales pitches, and opinions.
A senior Chrome engineer recently shared with Internet Engineering Task Force, ‘Research has shown that up to 52 companies can theoretically observe up to 91% of the average user’s web browsing history and 600 companies can observe at least 50%.’
Although Google’s Privacy Sandbox is supposed to fix this, the issue is that Google does not hold this much control over the internet advertising ecosystem. There is already a pre-existing complex web of trackers and data brokers in place and any new technology only adds to its complexity and cannot exist individually.
Therefore, Google’s attempt to arrange anonymized tracking across the web via FLoC resulted in a failure. FLoC was programmed to function in such a way that by viewing the websites a user visits, it would assign them to a cohort of people with similar behaviours and interests. This way, Google would have control of the entire market and advertisers would have to pay them.
However, FLoC was heavily criticised as the privacy lobby highlighted the potential risk that data brokers could easily add cohort IDs to other data collected on users—IP addresses or browser identities or any first-party web identifiers and gain access to even more knowledge about individuals. There was also the possibility that cohort IDs can betray sensitive information related to politics, sexuality, health, finances etc.
Google admitted to IETF that ‘today’s fingerprinting surface, even without FLoC, is easily enough to uniquely identify users,’ but that ‘FLoC adds new fingerprinting surfaces.’ In simple words, this means that FLoC will only worsen the already unfortunate situation.
Last month, Google ended the FLoC trial, claiming that it needed to be reexamined before being put into production. The company stated, ‘It’s become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right.’
With third-party trackers still in place, FLoC’s failure, and no plans for improved technology till at least 2023, there is no end in sight to fingerprinting on Chrome. Therefore, Chrome users should look for alternatives. If you are an Apple user, Safari is a better option as it provides a more private browsing platform. For non-Apple users, platforms such as DuckDuckGo, Brave, and Mozilla offer more private browsing options.
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