October 26, 2020

Chrome’s Move To Stomp Out Third Party Cookies? Good For Privacy, Good For Google’s Ad Business… Or Both?

We’ve talked in the past how efforts solely focused on “protecting privacy” without looking at the wider tech ecosystem and the challenges its facing may result in unintended consequences, and now we’ve got another example. Google has announced that it’s beginning a process to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome. Looking at this solely through the lens of privacy, many privacy advocates are celebrating this move, saying that it will better protect user privacy. But… if you viewed it from a more competitive standpoint, it also does much to give Google significantly more power over the ad market and could harm many other companies. Former Facebook CSO, Alex Stamos’ take is pretty dead on here:

I think we will see this pattern in tech policy play out repeatedly over the next decade:1) Media blows up anti-tech narrative with no thought to countervailing equities2) Legislators/regulators act on the narrative3) Both are outflanked by tech co’s more tied into the reality

— Alex Stamos (@alexstamos) January 14, 2020

A win for privacy may be a loss for competition — and nearly every big regulatory effort to “deal with” big internet companies is going to play right into those companies’ hands.

For years I’ve been talking about how we need to view privacy as a series of tradeoffs, or any attempt to regulate privacy will go badly. Here, this is even pre-regulation, but just based on the nature of the public narrative that third party cookies must obviously be bad. They can be, but not always. And the end result here is that the “trade off” for protecting more privacy is giving more of the ad market to Google. I’m guessing that most privacy advocates would argue that they don’t want to do that. But if you look solely through the lens of 3rd party cookies and no further — that’s what you get.
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