Today, at the I/O developer conference, Google announced a new way to limit how much advertisers can track you online. As first reported by The Wall Street Journal, the company is releasing a new set of controls that will allow users to see all of the cookies currently stored by the browser and give them the option of blocking any trackers they don’t like. It’s unclear how the new controls will work, and the pending interface was not made available to journalists, but the company described it as a new step in how Chrome protects users’ privacy.
Google is also pushing back against non-cookie tracking techniques like browser fingerprinting, reducing the amount of passive information Chrome provides to sites and taking new steps to fight active fingerprinting techniques.
“Our experience shows that people prefer ads that are personalized to their needs and interests,” Google engineering VP Prabhakar Raghavan said in a blog post explaining the shift, “but only if those ads offer transparency, choice, and control.”
Google also released some new transparency tools, designed to work alongside existing features like Ad Settings and Mute This Ad. A new open-source browser extension will inform users of the various intermediaries that were involved in serving and targeting a given Google ad. Google will make the extension available for various browsers and, through an open API system, encourage other ad networks to support the system.
It’s a more granular system than similar privacy measures that are already available in Safari and Firefox, which block many third-party trackers automatically. (But in Safari’s case, they largely ignore non-cookie-based tracking.) Because of Google’s deeply integrated login cookie, the system is also unlikely to limit Google’s own ability to see what you’re doing online. But given Chrome’s immense popularity, the new feature has the potential to significantly alter the balance of the online ad ecosystem, which is already dominated by Google and Facebook.