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Google web initiative aims to walk the line between privacy and advertising

Company claims a compromise must be struck to retain a free and open internet

Google has said it is working on new tools that aim to increase user privacy while also offering a means for advertisers to access meaningful data, in a bid to appeal to both sides.

It's a conflict of interests that has steadily escalated with the rise of more advanced web tracking techniques to deliver targeted adverts to users, although Google's proposal aims to strike a perfect balance between privacy and the ability for free access to the web.

It proposes what it calls a "privacy budget" which would involve web browsers allowing sites to make API calls to gather enough data to place a user into an advertising bracket, but not too many that it ends up leading to the deanonymisation of the user.

"After that, any further attempts to call APIs that would reveal information will cause the browser to intervene and block further calls," said Justin Schuh, director of Chrome engineering.

The proposal forms part of Google's Privacy Sandbox, a collection of explainers on the various topics Google hopes to seek community feedback on.

Privacy Sandbox is still in the embryonic planning stages at the moment and Google has early ideas for what it could end up being, but stresses it will require a great deal of industry collaboration to achieve its goals.

One such area being reviewed is the restrictive blocking of cookies, which some browsers are implementing already. While the attempts to block cookies and ultimately user fingerprinting are made in good faith, it fails to comprehensively address the issues and actually presents further problems to other industries.

One of those industries is publishing, which relies on cookies and, therefore, targeted ads to generate revenue and continue to operate free access to current events.

"Many publishers have been able to continue to invest in freely accessible content because they can be confident that their advertising will fund their costs," said Schuh. 'If this funding is cut, we are concerned that we will see much less accessible content for everyone. Recent studies have shown that when advertising is made less relevant by removing cookies, funding for publishers falls by 52% on average."

Unlike cookies, users can't clear this method of fingerprinting, which is why a new set of internet standards is needed for all needs to be satisfied, according to Google.

"Because fingerprinting is neither transparent nor under the user's control, it results in tracking that doesn't respect user choice," said Google back at its I/O conference in May 2019. "This is why Chrome plans to more aggressively restrict fingerprinting across the web.

"One way in which we'll be doing this is reducing the ways in which browsers can be passively fingerprinted, so that we can detect and intervene against active fingerprinting efforts as they happen."

Google is welcoming input from anyone and everyone to help advance its initiative, including publishers, advertisers, other browsers and privacy-minded web users.

"We believe that we must solve these problems together to ensure that the incredible benefits of the open, accessible web continue into the next generation of the internet," said Schuh.

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