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Update: Tech Tracking Explained

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Late last year, I wrote a short piece on how tech companies and advertising firms can track your behavior online, and a large section of the post focused on browser cookies. To have a quick recap, simply put, cookies are small bits of information that are generated by websites and stored on your computer in the browser. It can include things like a unique ID to see if you have visited the site before, or it can contain a reference to items that you placed in a shopping cart but didn’t purchase so that the site can re-add those items for you without needing you to log in.

Cookies are powerful tools used in most websites for functionality, keeping users logged in, and remembering important details about us for later access. It’s how forms can remember what you put in the text box before hitting submit, it’s how advertisers know what we look at when we shop online, and it’s how your bank knows that the device you are logging in from is a known and remembered one.

Google recently announced that they will be removing / blocking third party cookies in its ad networks and Chrome browser. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t still tracking you. And just because Google is removing third party cookies from its browser doesn’t mean that first party cookies are gone too. If you visit Google owned services like YouTube or their Search platform, those cookies will still exist on your devices and still be shared within and throughout Google services. You are still being tracked, but not in the same way. Google can also likely choose to bundle first party information and sell it to advertisers as an anonymized package of interests, or pressure advertisers to use the Google Ad Network for hosting their ads across the web, meaning Google will be one step closer to becoming synonymous with the internet as a whole.

Interestingly, the usage of third party cookies in this way, and the removal of those cookies has been done before by Safari (the Apple default browser) and Firefox (the famously open-source browser).

So does this mean anything for you? Well, in some ways yes. It means that third party cookies won’t be as easily used to track your ever move online, so targeted ads might be a bit less targeted to you specifically, but you are still being tracked and targeted by broader categorical ads and services. All in all, while this is a step in the right direction for data and privacy protections, our information is still widely accessible to companies and advertisers, and you likely won’t see a big change in online ads because of this.

I count it as a neutral win.