DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused browser, has updated its Chrome extension to disable two new Google Privacy Sandbox ad targeting approaches. Users can prevent Google Topics and FLEDGE using DuckDuckGo’s extension, or simply disable Chrome’s “Privacy Sandbox” setting, according to a blog post. Regulators and privacy campaigners have questioned Google’s Privacy Sandbox programme, which is an alternative means of tracking and targeting consumers for online ads that Google claims is more privacy-focused. DuckDuckGo has joined the chorus of critics of Google’s new ad technology, which is now being tested on a small number of customers.
“While some suggest that Topics is a less invasive way of ad targeting, we don’t agree. Why not? Fundamentally it’s because, by default, Google Chrome will still be automatically surveilling your online activity and sharing information about you with advertisers and other parties so they can behaviorally target you without your consent,” said DuckDuckGo’s product director Peter Dolanjski in the post.
Google’s FLEDGE (First Locally-Executed Decision over Groups Experiment), a new type of ad retargeting, was likewise criticised (otherwise known as those obnoxious ads that follow users wherever they go on the web). Unlike previous systems, Google asserts that FLEDGE enables remarketing without relying on a user’s personal identification. FLEDGE will also be directly embedded in Google’s Chrome browser, rather than relying on third-party cookies for ad retargeting.
“When you visit a website where the advertiser may want to later follow you with an ad, the advertiser can tell your Chrome browser to put you into an interest group. Then, when you visit another website which displays ads, your Chrome browser will run an ad auction based on your interest groups and target specific ads at you. So much for your browser working for you!,” Dolanjski wrote.
While it’s possible that this is just lip service, Google has stated that it would continue to take comments from privacy groups and regulators while it tests Privacy Sandbox. Privacy Sandbox received a cautious approval from the UK’s competition watchdog early this year. Google took longer than expected to phase out third-party cookies. Google’s Privacy Sandbox schedule is revised on a regular basis, and the latest estimate is that third-party cookies will be phased out during a three-month period in late 2023.