It looks like there is finally some movement on Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative.
The initiative, first announced in August 2019, was intended to replace third-party browser cookies with a series of APIs, which would rein in the amount of data the browser collects about a user’s activity. But users have been waiting for the implementation of the tool for nearly four years, without much update from the company.
In a blog post from July 13 announcing details about what to expect from the launch of Chrome 115, though, we got a bit more information about the release of the Privacy Sandbox.
According to developer relations engineer Adriana Jara, Chrome 115, which officially launched on July 18, will begin the launch of the Privacy Sandbox by phasing out the use of “third-party cookies and other mechanisms have been used to track user browsing behavior across sites to infer topics of interest.” Instead, they will be using Topics API.
Topics API allows Chrome to share information with third parties like advertisers, while still preserving some user privacy. “Topics are a signal to help ad tech platforms select relevant ads,” Jara writes. “Unlike third-party cookies, this information is shared without revealing further information about the user themself or the user’s browsing activity.”
Basically, if a user visits a site about cats, the browser might keep “cats” as a topic of interest instead of the actual site that was visited. Then, advertisers will send ads related to “cats” instead of related to any specific site. The end result? The advertisers will have less specific data about users.
According to the Verge, this doesn’t mean that the Privacy Sandbox is complete now that Chrome 115 is out. There is still more to do before the Privacy Sandbox rollout is done, including enabling a testing mode for advertisers to experiment in the Privacy Sandbox without using cookies and fully turning off third-party cookies for one percent of Chrome users.
Still, this is a pretty big step. Google, the Verge notes, is aiming to completely replace third-party cookies with APIs by late 2024.