DuckDuckGo has been engaged in a back-and-forth battle with Google over user privacy recently, and the company has taken another shot by allowing its Chrome extension to block its new “target-focused” ad targeting system. Privacy from Google.
Google has launched its new “Privacy Sandbox” ad targeting approach in stages, focusing on changes to its Chrome browser as first steps. The system attempts to make personalized ads more private by placing users in customer interest groups, but has been criticized by a number of privacy advocates.
DuckDuckGo Chrome Extension Allows Users to Exit Privacy Protection
A blog post by DuckDuckGo announced that two primary Google Sandbox privacy components, FLEDGE and Google Topics, can now be blocked individually or together in a recently updated Chrome extension. Together, FLEDGE and Topics aim to replace the standard tracking cookie used to target ads (which Google intends to end in Chrome by the end of 2022). The system is supposed to improve privacy by putting users in “pieces of interest” rather than creating individual profiles on them, with those portions being processed by the browser so that third parties have very limited access to them.
DuckDuckGo’s privacy concerns mirror those already raised by digital privacy groups and national regulators around the world. Regulators tend to be more interested in the antitrust part of the proposal, and they expect that Google will force the digital advertising market into the technology. Privacy advocates point out that Google will always have access to information about sensitive demographics, and that it’s not impossible for outside advertisers to use this system to identify and track individuals. Thus, the Chrome extension for DuckDuckGo already has an interested market despite the fact that Google’s new systems are not yet finalized.
The review doesn’t do particularly well for the DuckDuckGo Chrome extension due to the recent discovery that its web browser, which is touted as blocking all third-party user tracking, has quietly allowed Microsoft-owned services (such as Bing and LinkedIn). ) to track users and their profile. DuckDuckGo did not disclose this to the public, and it only came to light when a security researcher tracked browser traffic and found that it was providing information to Microsoft’s ad targeting services. This forced the CEO of DuckDuckGo to reveal that his contractual research partnership with Microsoft requires them to allow this type of user tracking.
FLoC to FLEDGE: Google Shifts Ad Targeting Plans
When Google first announced the Privacy Sandbox concept about two years ago, the initial plan was to use a system called “Federated Learning of Cohorts” (FLoC) to replace tracking cookies. The FLoC plan was canceled in early 2022 due to criticism that it used “groups” of users with similar interests to the mechanism used to serve ads. Subjects are designed to replace the cohort system with about 300 standard classes; The user will be assigned to the top three interest categories based on their browsing activity over the previous three weeks, with the categories rotating at least once per month. Google has promised that Chrome users will be able to see the categories they are currently assigned to and disable them temporarily or completely remove them from the categories of topics they don’t want to be associated with. Depending on the level of privacy controls they are installed on, this may eventually make the DuckDuckGo Chrome extension redundant.
Chrome is the only web browser with which Google can enforce this concept, but it seems to be hoping that other browsers will buy the system due to its heavy digital advertising program. It’s the part that has rattled the antennas of the national antitrust regulators, who fear that Google’s dominance of the digital marketing space will force essentially everyone to use whatever ad targeting system they’re sitting on.
Google threads have alarmed privacy advocates because they do not rule out the possibility that third parties may use browser fingerprinting technologies to track individuals, and may inadvertently assist them in the process. Google offered to counter this with a so-called “privacy budget,” a system that gives websites only a certain amount of access to user information before cutting it off. Some research indicates that the system can leak information, the same tracking mechanism can be used by phishing websites as an identifier, and this may break the functionality of websites that exceed the information limit.
The DuckDuckGo Chrome extension is available through the Google Play Store and does not appear to allow ads to be targeted by Microsoft products in the same way as the company’s “Privacy Browser”. Google’s Privacy Sandbox timeline calls for Topics and FLEDGE to be fully implemented in Chrome by the end of 2022, but the privacy budget is still listed as being in “early stages” and won’t be ready. before 2024.