They’re one of the most privacy-invading technologies on the web.
But from January 4, Google is starting to turn off third-party cookies – the intrusive computer files that track your behaviour.
The tech giant is randomly selecting one per cent of Chrome users around the world – about 30 million people – to be the first to use a feature called ‘Tracking Protection’.
Part of Google’s controversial Privacy Sandbox, it will limit websites from using third-party cookies to track users as they browse the web to serve up relevant ads.
Here’s what the change means for you – and if you’ll have to do anything when it comes into effect.
If you’re one of the one per cent randomly selected for Tracking Protection on January 4, you will see a notification on the Chrome browser for desktop or browser.
It will read: ‘You’re one of the first to experience Tracking Protection, which limits sites from using third-party cookies to track you as you browse.’
The change will take place automatically, so as you browse the web, third-party cookies will be restricted by default, limiting the ability to track you across different websites.
Anyone who wants third-party cookies to continue on Chrome for whatever reason can re-enable them by clicking on the eye icon in the search bar.
However, even if you’re not selected for the initial rollout, the days of third-party cookies on Chrome are numbered.
Google plans to completely phase out the use of third-party cookies when Tracking Protection arrives for all users in the second half of 2024.
In a blog post, Google described Tracking Protection as ‘a key milestone’ in its much-touted Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to ‘create technologies that protect people’s privacy online’.
‘When it comes to improving privacy on the web, the work is never finished,’ the company said.
‘That’s why in Chrome, we continue to invest in features that protect your data and provide more control over how it’s used.
‘This includes taking steps to limit the ability to track your activity across different websites.
‘On January 4, we’ll begin testing Tracking Protection, a new feature that limits cross-site tracking by restricting website access to third-party cookies by default.’
Third-party cookies have been ‘a fundamental part of the web for nearly three decades, Google said – but they’re seen as a privacy intrusion as they leak our online activity to advertisers.
Google said that Tracking Protection targets third-party cookies, which are placed on a user’s device by websites other than the one the user is visiting – typically by digital advertising agencies.
Third-party cookies are created when a user visits a website that includes elements from other sites, such as third-party images or ads.
They contrast with first-party cookies, which are set by the site a user is visiting and are often useful, as they let the browser remember important user information.
Google plans to replace third-party cookies with a new system that restricts the sharing of data within its own organisation, which it says is better for our privacy.
Essentially, advertisers will have to ask Chrome what sort of topics they’d like to browse – such as fashion, food, or travel – rather than having direct access to our browsing data.
It’s not without controversy, however, as regulators fear the change will increase Google’s dominance of the online advertising market.
Advertisers have said the loss of cookies in the world’s most popular browser will limit their ability to collect information for personalising ads and make them dependent on Google’s user databases.
Google’s plans to banish third-party cookies for all users in 2024 is subject to addressing antitrust concerns raised by UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The regulator’s former chief executive Andrea Coscelli said it would keep a ‘close eye’ on the Silicon Valley giant and ‘we are under no illusions that our work is done’.
Laura Adams is a tech enthusiast residing in the UK. Her articles cover the latest technological innovations, from AI to consumer gadgets, providing readers with a glimpse into the future of technology.