Google has announced plans today to phase out the usage of user-agent strings in its web browser Chrome. Google announced via a company blog post, a move that follows similar clampdowns from Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox browsers.
In Google’s case, signalling the change two years ahead of time is about figuring out how to address the legitimate needs of constituencies like publishers and advertisers while also balancing the inevitability of this change.
Users need greater privacy — including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used — and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands,” director of Chrome engineering Justin Schuh wrote in Tuesday’s post. “Some browsers have reacted to these concerns by blocking third-party cookies, but we believe this has unintended consequences that can negatively impact both users and the web ecosystem.”
This all stems from Google’s announcement back in August of its so-called Privacy Sandbox initiative, Schuh continues, which involves the company trying to help develop a new set of open standards to enhance privacy on the web — indeed, to use this open-source initiative as a springboard for making the web “more private and secure for users, while also supporting publishers.”
Of course, Google closing off a way for advertisers to make money in this fashion could end up sparking antitrust concerns, since Google’s Chrome browser is the most popular in the world — with a nearly 70% worldwide market share, according to a recent analysis from Statista. Moreover, this news comes one day before the version of Microsoft’s Edge browser that’s based on Chrome’s web browsing engine starts rolling out.
According to Schuh’s post, this effort remains a work in progress at Google: “By undermining the business model of many ad-supported websites, blunt approaches to cookies encourage the use of opaque techniques such as fingerprinting (an invasive workaround to replace cookies), which can reduce user privacy and control.