Google's New Cookie Tracking Policy Raises Eyebrows

John Lister's picture

Google is set to make it easier for users to block tracking cookies. Perhaps unsurprisingly the reported changes would also be very helpful for Google.

Cookies are small files that a website saves onto a computer's hard drive via the web browser. When the user next returns to the site, it will check for cookies and use the information to customize the site's content or appearance.

For example, if a user were to enter in their name and password on a forum website and then selected the "remember me" option, this preference would be saved using a cookie. The next time the user visits the website, he or she would not have to login again until the cookie expired (presumably after 14 or more days).

Another example would be when a weather site uses cookies to "remember" a user's city and automatically shows the relevant forecast. In other cases, cookies can be more sinister by tracking the user's activity on other sites. In this case, the cookies are used to build up a profile and is used for targeted advertising.

One Stop Shop For Cookie Inspection

Right now users need to dig through settings and menus to find what cookies are on their machine.

Even so, it's extremely difficult to figure out what the cookies do. It's also very tiresome to remove cookies short of deleting them all, which can then make visiting trusted sites more frustrating as preferences are erased and users have to type details in again.

The Wall Street Journal reports that an upcoming Chrome update will change this with a "dashboard for cookies" feature. It will be a single place to see which cookies are on their machine and exactly what the cookie is tracking. There will also be a simple option to block or remove a cookie. (Source:

Google May Escape Effects

Exactly how things will work is still unclear, but it seems the main effect will be on "profit-seeking third parties, separate from the owner of the website a user is actively visiting."

The Wall Street Journal says that it will likely have two effects. Firstly, it seems Google's own activities won't be significantly limited by the changes. Secondly, rival online advertising companies could be hurt by having less tracking data, meaning the ads they show are less relevant and thus less likely to prompt the user to click on them. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Would you like better control of and information about cookies? Do you trust Google's motives in making the changes? Should Chrome block all tracking cookies by default and make sites ask the user for express permission before installing a cookie?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Here's my take on the new cookie dashboard:

First of all, cookies are used transparently and most users aren't even aware what is happening. And that's not a bad thing. Most of the time cookies are not tracking users; even so, tracking isn't "malicious" like many computer cleaning programs make them out to be (for example).

The fact is: Google tracks what websites you visit, then uses this data to serve up ads based on your profile. This is called "remarketing" and has been happening for well over a decade. In theory, ISPs can also track user activity and then sell that information to marketers, and this would supersede browser cookies.

Is the new "cookie dashboard" going to benefit users? I don't think so. Cookies are way too complicated to figure out on their own. The contents of cookies often use obfuscated information (computer code) and this data can even be encrypted. So to say that a dashboard is going to somehow magically make users "more aware" of what is happening is simply not going to work. Even so it would be incredibly time consuming to wade through hundreds or thousands of cookies.

What I think is really happening here is that Google is simply going to crush its competition. This is based on the fact that the competition stores cookies on local machines to build profiles. Perhaps the only difference here is that Google places cookies on its own servers, rather than on the user's machine. Therefore, the way the new cookie dashboard works would make Google exempt. Another possibility is that Google tracks what sites users visit by their own search engine data, then uses that for marketing.

In any case, I don't see the cookie dashboard being useful.