EFF warns against Google’s Privacy Protection Initiative: “Privacy is misleading”

The EFF warns of Google Chrome’s new privacy sandbox: You can’t really browse privately, because Google is still following you.

By the end of 2024, Google wants to get rid of so-called “third-party cookies” in the web browser. The search engine giant is launching a “Privacy Sandbox” for this purpose. With this “sandbox”, third-party cookies will no longer be useful and will gradually disappear. This only benefits your privacy, according to Google.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) strongly disagrees with this. EFF is an American organization focused on civil rights in a digital environment. They recommend users disable a number of settings in the Privacy Sandbox to hide their online activity. Meanwhile, the organization also recommends switching to Mozilla Firefox or Apple’s Safari.

Privacy sandbox

Although the name “Privacy Sandbox” suggests ensuring your privacy and security, this is not the case. Sandbox mode still allows websites to track your online activity. What’s more: the name “sandbox” is not correct either. It is usually used in closed environments where code can run without affecting the rest of the system. This is not possible with Chrome Privacy Shield.

So the baby was given a rather unfortunate name. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that Google attributes the best intentions to its privacy protection environment. This should basically ensure that you are less connected to spam and fraudulent sites. Additionally, sandboxing ensures we see relevant ads and can take measurements based on those ads that make advertisers happy. Finally, a privacy protection mechanism should ensure that you cannot be tracked between different sites, whether you are aware of it or not.

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Google’s privacy protection mechanism, despite its noble intentions, receives a lot of opposition. Thorin Klosowski, security and privacy campaigner at the EFF, moves to one Online article Leather vs Google. The Topics API, which ensures ads match your browsing history, seems particularly problematic. Although the API has been modified several times, it still “tracks your internet usage for Google behavioral ads,” the activist says.

Are you on a website where the Topics API is used? The site will then ask your browser a question: “What are this visitor’s interests?” The Topics API will then send you three numbers based on your search history. These numbers represent Certain categories. For example, are you interested in smart home apps? Then Google will return code 131. Do you like to play table tennis? Then there’s a good chance that Google will point to the code 195, which stands for “/Games/Table Tennis”.

Google as a knowledge manager

Relevant ads can then be selected based on this information. Topics ensure that not every website knows your search history, as is the case currently. Instead, only Google knows exactly where you are on the Internet. Although this seems safer, it reinforces Google’s position as an Internet giant: anyone who wants to display ads based on behavior cannot do without Google.

In other words: themes can prevent websites from tracking your activity via third-party cookies. However, Google doesn’t need these cookies to track your online activity, Klosowski also says. The company can also do this if you sign in to Google Chrome with your Google account. “The fact that Google refers to this as ‘privacy’ is misleading,” the activist says.

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Privacy guarantee

To ensure your privacy, EFF suggests switching to a different web browser – preferably one that is not built on the same Chromium framework as Chrome. They point to Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari as the best alternatives.

Prefer to continue browsing in Chrome? It is then recommended to go to Chrome’s privacy settings and adjust some settings there. To do this, copy “chrome://settings/adPrivacy” to your address bar and press enter. EFF recommends disabling settings such as “Ad Topics,” “Site Suggested Ads,” and “Ad Measurement.” In Dutch, the settings are called ‘Ad Topics’, ‘Suggested Ads on Site’ and ‘Ad Measurement’.

Winton Frazier

 "Amateur web lover. Incurable travel nerd. Beer evangelist. Thinker. Internet expert. Explorer. Gamer."

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