Google plans to make cookies passe

googlePlansIn the short story, “A Case of Identity” , Sherlock Holmes says, “It is a curious thing that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting.” It’s not just typewriters. Computers and cameras have unique “fingerprints” , even in the virtual world. And that is probably how companies like Google will track users in the future.

Edward Snowden’s revelations may not have much impact in bringing about change in the NSA or the American surveillance state, but they have made many more users security and privacy conscious. The basic building block of online surveillance, the cookie, is now under threat.

The cookie is a small text file that cannot take more than 4KB of disk space. It usually contains a key that is sent to the web server every time the user’s browser requests a page. The web server logs information associated with the requests and the cookie information is used to identify the user. In other words, a Google cookie allows the company to track every search a user has made since the cookie’s creation. Now, users – even the non-tech savvy ones – are either deleting their cookies periodically, or using their browser settings to prevent their creation.

Google, which relies heavily on user information to display ads, is now planning to move away from cookies to other identifiers – possibly fingerprinting the browser and the computer itself. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit digital rights group, demonstrates one way that cookieless fingerprinting may be implemented. Going to panopticlick allows users to test their browser’s uniqueness, which is determined by a series of parameters (see graphic below): The browser version, the user’s operating system, the browser plug-ins installed, the computer’s time zone, the fonts installed on the machine, the status of cookies – all of these go into creating a unique fingerprint for every user on every machine. Changing browser settings, enabling or disabling plugins – all make your computer more identifiable, not less.

But Google’s new plan for tracking users, called the AdID, is making advertisers jittery as well. Until now,cookies enabled third parties to track user habits. AdID would give users much greater control over their private browsing habits, and essentially allow them to block specific trackers, giving Google even greater control of a market it already dominates.

source : Times of India