Google is looking to phase out third-party cookies from Google Chrome next year. The company will continue to track users through a different method, which has seen its fair share of criticism so far. Still, phasing out third-party cookies from Google Chrome is a step in the right direction. But that won’t completely stop other companies from tracking users online.
A key piece of user data that could allow some companies to fingerprint users is the unique IP associated with their computing devices. One way to prevent this is using a VPN service to anonymize your browsing. If you’re using Apple devices, you can consider subscribing to iCloud Plus and enabling iCloud Private Relay in Safari, another service that anonymizes your IP address.
But Google is building its own version of iCloud Private Relay for Google Chrome, and it will let you disable IP address tracking from your internet browser.
Google acknowledged in a support document (via Bleeping Computer) on Github that IP tracking is a phenomenon that can’t be easily stopped. Companies might be tracking you online by collecting your IP address and combining it with other data points:
As browser vendors make efforts to provide their users with additional privacy, the user’s IP address continues to make it feasible to associate users’ activities across origins that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. This information can be combined over time to create a unique, persistent user profile and track a user’s activity across the web, which represents a threat to their privacy. Moreover, unlike with third-party cookies, there is no straightforward way for users to opt out of this kind of covert tracking.
IP tracking also allows someone to gain information about your current location.
However, there are legitimate uses for tracking IP addresses. “IP addresses have been and will continue to be instrumental in routing traffic, preventing fraud and abuse, and performing other important functions for network operators and domains,” Google writes.
Google’s IP Protection feature will initially be an opt-in option in Chrome. Moreover, it’ll initially only work with Google websites and services. That means Google will also prevent itself from collecting IP data from users when they visit Google-owned domains. Like Gmail, for example, a core Google service.
The initial phase of the test will cover US-based users, with a few select Google Chrome users able to test it. The first iteration of IP Protection will use a single proxy to anonymize your IP address.
But that’s not private enough. So Google plans to add a secondary proxy as well. A third party will manage the second hop. That way, neither Google nor the second company will get access to both the original IP and the traffic destination. In turn, this will boost user privacy.
As for location data that might be needed for certain services — like Netflix, for example — Google Chrome will offer coarse location information rather than precise location data.
Google also plans to address potential security issues that might arise from implementing the IP Protection feature, like a hacker compromising Google’s proxy servers. The company might have users authenticate to proxies. It’ll also prevent proxies from correlating traffic with the user account.
That said, it’ll be a while before the anti-IP tracking feature rolls out to all Google Chrome users worldwide. Until then, you can consider getting a VPN service to protect your data. In fact, as a VPN user myself, I’ll keep using a VPN even after more browsers adopt similar IP tracking features like Safari and Google Chrome.
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