How Google Will Track You Without Cookies


Amid consumer unease over cookies, Google looks at different ways to serve its ads.

As users have become both more aware and wary of cookies — the technology that tracks browsing activity for advertising purposes — Google has started experimenting with new tracking methods that don't use cookies. People want more control over the advertising they see and what companies know about them. Cookies can often feel creepy; it can feel like the Internet knows you too well.

Many people, therefore, avoid cookies, either by turning them off or using services that block them. Firefox and Safari block cookies to varying degrees. (Firefox's default setting turns cookies off; Safari blocks them altogether.) And, smartphone browsers and apps don't use cookies. Google, of course, loses revenue when that happens: Fewer people see their relevant ads. Therefore, it's no surprise that the company wants to figure out a different way to serve its ads sans cookies, as USA Today's Alistair Barr reports. But how might that work?

Google did not clarify the exact technology it was working on. "We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they're all at very early stages," a spokesperson told Barr. One of those "concepts" includes fingerprinting a technique that "allows a web site to look at the characteristics of a computer such as what plugins and software you have installed, the size of the screen, the time zone, fonts and other features of any particular machine," as Forbes' Adam Tanner explains it. Your browser transmits all sorts of information that has nothing to do with cookies. All of those things put together form a unique identity that can be assigned an identifying number and then used just like a cookie. (You can check out how unique your browser is and the kind of information it is sharing over at this Electronic Frontier Foundation site.) 

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(Image via SeanPavonePhoto /