Google announced plans to change the way its hugely-successful web browser handles cookies last year. After starting to roll out the tweaks earlier this year, Google hit the brakes in April. The Mountain View-based company took the decision in order to ensure Chrome remained as stable as possible as millions stayed in their homes to work and take classes in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Google is now ready to start bringing its long-planned updates back to millions of Chrome users worldwide.
After suspending updates with new features worldwide earlier in the pandemic, Google has already restarted updates. So, it makes sense that it can now look to roll out its changes to third-party cookies and cross-site tracking.
For those who don’t know, cross-site tracking cookies can be used to track users across a variety of websites. Those cookies can be used to keep you logged into services – like Facebook and Twitter – for faster sharing.
These cookies can also help advertisers serve you custom advertisements across the web. Unfortunately, that also means these can reveal what you’ve been doing online to a social site, which is why some ads will follow you into social media walled gardens. For most of us, having ads which are attuned with our interests are a positive thing. If you’re into ceramic pottery and succulents, it’d be annoying and weird to see adverts for medical equipment or industrial valve fittings, for example.
Cross-site tracking can pose a security threat. It can – and has – been used in the past to steal user accounts and money.
That’s why Google is so keen to roll out a stricter cookie system for Chrome. Under the new cookie system being rolled out by Google, developers who don’t meet the new standards will find their cookies set to secure by default. Unfortunately, this could cause breakages on websites that rely on cross-site tracking and haven’t taken the time to update. Retail websites are a prominent example where cookies are essential for the experience to work …and those who don’t update in time could find the entire experience broken.
Given the huge ramifications of the changes, it’s clear why Google hit ‘pause’ on the updates earlier this year.
“In April, we temporarily rolled back the enforcement of SameSite cookie labelling to ensure stability for websites providing essential services in the critical initial stage of COVID-19 response,” Justin Schuh, Director of Chrome Engineering, said in a blog post.