Don’t worry, it’s nothing ominous. In fact, the changes are potentially very beneficial, designed to improve users’ privacy and data security. It’s the first phase of Google’s ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project for Chrome, which involves (among other things) the demise of third-party cookies in the browser.
That doesn’t mean that Chrome will suddenly be targeted-ad-free, but it’s a move designed to improve users’ control over the ads they see and how their data is collected. To this end, Google is making a set of six new APIs available to all Chrome users (and, more importantly, developers) to allow for targeted advertising without the need for privacy-invading external cookies.
What do you need to do?
Google has already started rolling out the update to every machine with Chrome installed, but it’s a gradual process – it won’t appear for everyone at the same time, but it’s projected to drop for most users by mid-July.
The update will take the form of an unskippable pop-up; you have to engage with it, even if it’s just to click ‘Got it’ to accept the default Privacy Sandbox options. Alternatively, you can dive into the settings to tweak everything exactly to your liking. If you’re using one of the best Chromebooks, you’ll be faced with the update almost immediately once it lands on your device.
Privacy Sandbox is going live in Chrome 114 – if you update you might see it now. Your first view will be this popup once you restart – “enhanced ad privacy” is the overall branding to users. 1/ pic.twitter.com/eq9SNocTF4June 29, 2023
The three areas you can make adjustments are Ad Topics, Site-suggested Ads, and Ad Measurement. The first is arguably the most important; it’ll let you set specific areas of interest for the ads you receive, while the default option uses the sites you visit to build a profile of interests. However, your browser history will remain saved to your device only, rather than being shared with Google or any advertisers.
If you choose to fine-tune your Privacy Sandbox settings, you’ll have a lot more control over the ways in which your data is collected and processed. The changes are vital to ensure that Google remains in cooperation with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), which is why Chrome will lock you out until you agree to the new settings.
Microsoft has its own plans for GDPR compliance in the Edge browser, including the option to limit or completely block third-party cookies. However, Edge hasn’t phased out these cookies entirely in the way Google plans to; perhaps this could become the next battleground in the Chrome vs Edge war?