Is Google phasing out 3rd party cookies good news?

This past week a blog post authored by David Temkin, Google’s Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust announced formally that Google will phase out third-party cookies and “will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”

At first glance this sounds like good news, but is it? Later in the post they explain that they don’t need third party trackers to guarantee advertisers the same quality of performance. Does this just mean that Google now has all the tools they need in house to predict what people will click on? What do you all think?

This situation kind of reminds me of how Google used to brag that they never sell user data. Which also sounds nice, but ignores the fact that their collection of the data is the problem and them not selling it is just how they protect their monopoly. I’m just curious if members of this community see Google’s announcement as reason to celebrate.


So Google Chrome browser will block all third party cookies and will use Federated Learning of Coherts locally on the device to learn a person’s interest groups. Those groups are then sent to advertisers, with no personally identifiable information. It is over 95% as effective as using personally identifiable information. And somehow it strengthens Google’s stranglehold. In a bombshell today, Google said they are going to stop using other identifiers.

“We will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products. Advances in aggregation, anonymization, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers.”

Note Apple is also been doing something involving on-device “private” tracking for their app ads. Also note Safari and Firefox already block third party cookies.

Except for the “bombshell”, none of this is new. The ad industry has been discussing all this for the last couple of years, and has been expecting a future free of third party cookies, a future of walked data gardens and on-device private tracking. As usual Silicon Valley is running circles around the humane, federated and open tech communities, who are still trying to create a humane MySpace.

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Yes, this is the general consensus. The Privacy-First activities are merely a ruse, and what Google is doing is mostly ensuring their dominance in the Ad space, making it harder for competitors to catch up, or even push them out of the market (which in itself is not bad for consumers). They’ll also present a good face with their privacy-first measures to regulators.

The development this sets in can be seen as NOT GOOD. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has provided an in-depth article on the changes to come:

There’s also a good discussion on HN about this: Google to stop selling ads based on your specific web browsing | Hacker News and on EFF’s article Google’s FLoC Is a Terrible Idea | Hacker News

All in all Google’s position on the internet is getting ever more worrisome. The free web is almost gone, replaced by the corporate internet and the Google-web.

I don’t want to drag this thread off-topic, but I want to set the record straight where in this you refer to the Fediverse. There’s no “running circles around Fediverse”. Fediverse with ‘just’ about 4 million users - mostly consisting of people who fled toxicity and surveillance capitalism on mainstream social media - is conveniently ignored by SV (though Jack Dorsey of Twitter has started project Bluesky investigating a decentralized Twitter [PDF] and their report includes ActivityPub).

The Fediverse itself is not aiming to become a replacement for mainstream social media, see Let’s Play and Win Our Own Game. Also it has nothing to do with MySpace. Every FOSS developer just builds the decentralized apps of their interest, and then gets the option to further integrate it with other apps on the Fediverse. Everything is fully organic and grassroots, though there are some central hubs of coordination (specification development, research, etc.)

Wow Arnold.

Google doesn’t want to be a surveillance company, they are after all an ad company. By trying to think like Google, I can imagine that they are for real, they really intend to stop spying outside of Google products. Espionage has hurt Google’s reputation, with their employees and with normal people, and caused them to have major legal and political problems. Spying no longer benefits Google.

I have analysed their business and they do not need spying. Their core moneymakers are ads on Google products, for which of course they can track people using those no problem. Ads on third party apps and sites are a smaller amount of revenue for them. The pont is, Google might not even need to know what you do outside of Google products, as long as they know your browsing / app interests in a privacy-respecting way, that might be enough for them. May there is even a small chance that they no longer want to spy.

With Federated Learning of Cohorts, browser history is kept privately on the device. It’s not a trick, it’s real privacy. And there is no way for third parties to match a person’s interest groups with a unique id. That is the whole point.

This is a way for Google to get an unfair advantage over other advertisers, as only Google sees Federated Learning of Cohorts groups. That will allow Google to increase their ad markup percentages. Government is already investigating.

If by luck, Google no longer needs to spy it will change many things. Browser usage will become an even more important battleground. As will search. And privacy is now a selling point for other companies. I hope, though the odds are low, that Google will also embrace privacy.

As to Fediverse just 500,000 people used it last month, while my own financially stressed website alone gets four times as many people. As to MySpace, it’s just an expression with means they are far behind, not to be taken literally.

Google is very much a surveillance capitalist (which is a different thing than being in the surveillance business). It is by far the biggest in this, even more so than Facebook. If you ever requested the gigabytes of data they have about your person, and realize this not even includes processed / derived data, you also realize this data is their oil and they are the top oil Baron of the internet.

The cookies thing represents only one of the many ways in which Google extends their influence on the internet. There’s the browser oligopoly with Chrome phoning home, there’s Gmail and the plethora of other Google services that can collect data. And let’s not forget the near monopoly in the search space that’s a rich oil well. Google with their dominance is able to set new internet standards, think e.g. of AMP, that work in their favor. And lastly even at infrastructure level they extend their reach ever further, and there’s good chance your internet traffic flow through Google’s undersea cables.

Google is not an ethical company, and it is also not moving in a more ethical direction either. Like all Big Tech players they are at an absolutely insane, entirely unhealthy level of power. Google is absolutely anathema to a free internet. It is corporate web incorporated. And the sad thing is that most people still have their blinders on, enjoying the “it’s all free” convenience, which is the same ruse that has led us in this unfortunate position.

What’s so exciting of the Fediverse, is not the number of users, but the innovation in decentralized web and new application spaces, plus the fact that it is occurring without even a hint of corporate influence, atm. This is also the Achilles Heel, and Fediverse must grow stronger - again not necessarily in terms of numbers, but ‘completeness of vision’ and standards - to withstand corrupting influences.

Also - and not referring to you, but in general - it is an utter shame that so many people look down upon FOSS, while open-source has arguably eaten the world. FOSS developers, by their principles and pursuit of things close to their heart, have made it hard to eek out a living from their work. And their work is all-too-easily profited from or even exploited by others, including and especially Big Tech.

I am very happy to be both involved with FOSS and Fediverse, and spend my spare time advocating and helping to bring it to more prominence.

I don’t think people look down upon free open source software. I don’t see what it has to do with this discussion. Perhaps fork this into a separate thread?

It is related to the Achilles Heel of Fediverse because it is all FOSS. The big tech forces are out for the eradication of FOSS, and many people overly critical on perceived weaknesses of FOSS (e.g. in terms of UX) - even when they align with its values in general - are (mostly unwittingly) helping these forces to win. And corporate-internet-galore would be the result.

Update: I have taken the FOSS part to another thread: Why does Humane Tech need to be open source? - #11 by aschrijver

Arnold, just willing something to be better than it really is won’t help make it any better. People are just telling the truth. It doesn’t make sense to lie to promote something, or to make something which isn’t popular become popular. Now free open source software is actually wildly popular, for example I work almost exclusively with it in my work. The many benefits such as of freedom from corporate manipulation and so on, are worth the inconveniences such as needing 2 doctorate degrees in software engineering and 17 months of time to configure one server.