Google puts Chrome on a cookie diet (which just so happens to starve its rivals, cough, cough...)

But it's for privacy! You know us. We're Google, privacy champions. Always championing privacy, us


Google I/O Google, the largest handler of web cookies, plans to change the way its Chrome browser deals with the tokens, ostensibly to promote greater privacy, following similar steps taken by rival browser makers Apple, Brave, and Mozilla.

At Google I/O 2019 on Tuesday, Google's web platform director Ben Galbraith announced the plan, which has begun to appear as a hidden opt-in feature in Chrome Canary – a version of Chrome for developer testing – and is expected to evolve over the coming months.

When a website creates a cookie on a visitor's device for its own domain, it's called a first-party cookie. Websites may also send responses to visitor page requests that refer to resources on a third-party domain, like a one-pixel tracking image hosted by an advertising site. By attempting to load that invisible image, the visitor enables the ad site to set a third-party cookie, if the user's browser allows it.

Third-party cookies can have legitimate uses. They can help maintain states across sessions. For example, they can provide a way to view an embedded YouTube video (the third party in someone else's website) without forcing a site visitor already logged into YouTube to navigate to YouTube, login and return.

But they can also be abused, which is why browser makers have implemented countermeasures. Apple uses WebKit's Intelligent Tracking Protection for example to limit third-party cookies. Brave and Firefox block third party requests and cookies by default.

Now finally Google has decided to do something.

Welcome to the new class system

"Moving forward Chrome will make all cookies limited to first party contexts by default, and will require developers to explicitly mark a cookie as needing third-party visibility, which creates a clear distinction between first party and third party cookies and enhances web safety," said Galbraith.

As part of this change, developers will be required to explicitly mark cookies to make them accessible by third parties. This is done using the SameSite attribute (defined by RFC6265bis), which provides three options: Strict, Lax, or None.

Strict, as its name suggests, means cookies will only be sent in a first-party context, which is when they correspond with the domain displayed in the browser address bar. Lax prevents third-party cookies on pages with off-site assets, like an externally hosted image; but it allows them if the user clicks a link that leads to the third-party site.

Chrome 76, scheduled for release in July, is introducing same-site-by-default-cookies flag that will change the default behavior of the Set-Cookie response header, when no value is supplied, to set SameSite=Lax.

When this flag is set in Chrome, cookies without the SameSite attribute – from most websites probably since the SameSite attribute is fairly recent – will be treated as if they were SameSite=Strict.

And soon, Google "will also require that third-party cookies be only served over https connections, which further enhances web security," said Galbraith, who explained in a blog post that the change will protect cookies from cross-site injection and data disclosure attacks like Cross-Site Request Forgery and Spectre.

Google also intends to work on ways to reduce browser fingerprinting, a method of tracking that looks at installed extensions and other browser and system characteristics to build unique technical profile that serves as an identifier for tracking.

If Google succeeds, it will still be able to track most people, by virtue of Chrome's dominance. But competitors will suffer.

A Brave spokesperson told The Register via email that Chrome’s new proposed default policy for cookies has some security benefits: “However, since sites can opt out of SameSite=Lax, it would be fairly easy for trackers to evade this, so Chrome users would still be subjected to tracking and privacy infringements.”

Google power grab

Augustine Fou, a cybersecurity and ad fraud researcher who advises companies about online marketing, told The Register that while Google's cookie changes will benefit consumer privacy, they'll be devastating for the rest of the ad tech business.

"It's really great for Google's own bottom line because all their users are logged in to various Google services anyway, and Google has consent/permission to advertise and personalize ads with the data," he said.

In a phone interview with The Register, Johnny Ryan, chief policy and industry relations officer at browser maker Brave, expressed disbelief that Google makes it sound as if it's opposed to tracking.

"Google isn't just the biggest tracker, it's the biggest workaround actor of tracking prevention yet," he said, pointing to the company's efforts to bypass tracking protection in Apple's Safari browser.

Apple Safari icon

One step forward and one step back for Apple's privacy campaign with latest Safari build

READ MORE

In 2012, Google agreed to pay $22.5m to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it "placed advertising tracking cookies on consumers' computers, in many cases by circumventing the Safari browser’s default cookie-blocking setting."

Ryan explained that last year Google implemented a forced login system that automatically allows Chrome into the user's Google account whenever the user signs into a single Google application like Gmail.

"When the browser knows everything you're doing, you don't need to track anything else," he said. "If you're signed into Chrome, everything goes to Google."

But other ad companies will know less, which will make them less competitive. "In real-time ad bidding, where Google's DoubleClick is already by far the biggest player, Google will have a huge advantage because the Google cookie, the only cookie across websites, will have so much more valuable bid responses from advertisers."

The World Wide Web, he said, may become the Google Walled Web. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022