Google’s Privacy Sandbox (or how to end with the Internet Neutrality)

David Garcia
5 min readOct 2, 2023

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Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative

In the past few weeks, Google has upgraded their web browser (Google Chrome), including a new privacy and security settings block. It has been implemented to work alongside their new "Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative", which reads as follows:

“The Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to create technologies that both protect people’s privacy online and give companies and developers tools to build thriving digital businesses. The Privacy Sandbox reduces cross-site and cross-app tracking while helping to keep online content and services free for all.”

Sounds good, right? Based on what Google has posted, they have been working very hard to end the cross-domain cookies that track every move you make online (where your mouse goes, where you click, what websites you visit, what purchases you make, how much porn you watch, etc.).

However…

All that glitters is not gold

Gold Trap Chain royalty-free stock illustration @ Pixabay

I am inviting you to consider the following questions:

  • Do you think that Google, one of the largest and most powerful businesses worldwide, which gets a vast majority of its income through targeted advertising, will switch overnight and provide a solution that means they will not be able to serve relevant ads to the users browsing websites including Google technology?
  • Do you believe Google will stop their most profitable business model to "protect user's privacy", knowing it will cost them much more than billions (or trillions) of dollars and risk themselves to cease their activity just because users worldwide are now installing ad blockers?

Please think twice.

Google is one of the tech giants precisely because they have not only the tools but also the power to action changes while making them feel positive when, in fact, they are causing the worst impact possible.

It's grow-up time…

When we grow up… @ The Kidd Kraddick Morning Show

The truth behind the reality is that Google had no other choice but to implement its [fake] Privacy Sandbox initiative for three primary reasons:

"Thanks" to these three primary factors, Google had to work on an alternative solution that allows them to keep running their most profitable business (targetted advertising) while:

  • Not being blocked by other browser's third-party cookies policies;
  • Not being blocked by ad blocker extensions; and
  • Not being fined (again) due to the EU Privacy Laws.

And the answer was…

Making the targetted advertising profiles public

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Oh yeah! That was the brilliant move that Google decided to implement. From now on, every website worldwide can create a profile with each user's interests just by browsing their website. How?

As part of the Chromium project - Google Chrome engine - (which is also used by other web browsers), Google has implemented a new feature. It enables an option to retrieve a list of all your "browsing topics", which is updated in real time because it's auto-generated based on your browsing history.

Any company will now be able to include a single line of code on any website they own to create a segmented list of interests each visitor has:

// https://developer.chrome.com/docs/privacy-sandbox/topics/

document.browsingTopics();

Or the following block of code (if these companies are smarter and want to prevent unexpected errors from browsers not supporting this feature):

// https://developer.chrome.com/docs/privacy-sandbox/topics/#feature-detection

'browsingTopics' in document && document.featurePolicy.allowsFeature('browsing-topics')
? console.log('document.browsingTopics() is supported')
: console.log('document.browsingTopics() is not supported');

You can even check your own browsing topics meticulously structured by the Google Chrome browser to see how many of them have already been recorded and will be used to deliver targeted advertising:

View topics calculated for your browser (browsing "chrome://topics-internals" in your Google Chrome)

Switch to another browser to stay protected

Web Browser Showdown: Safari vs Chrome vs Brave vs Edge vs Firefox

The most straightforward answer about preventing a specific software from sharing personal information is not using that software at all. In other words, uninstall Google Chrome and use one of their competitors:

Or turn off the "browsing topics" feature

Google Chrome / Settings / Privacy and Security / Ad Privacy (or browse “chrome://settings/adPrivacy”)

Although several well-known court cases nowadays involve big tech companies (such as Apple vs. Epic Games, Google vs. Epic Games, Apple & Google default search engine and more), Google doesn't make it as easy to turn off these browsing topics.

Instead, you must go to your browser settings and disable all the trackers yourself (an action that most users will never do).

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David Garcia

Senior Software Engineer, Backend, NodeJS & Symfony developer, workaholic, passionate for new technologies and OSS contributor. https://linktr.ee/davidgarciacat