Proportion of websites installing trackers on their visitors’ devices in January 2024, according to the firm W3Techs

Average number of trackers per site, according to the Focal Point Insights report. Of this number, almost 60% are considered “third parties”, following the Internet user from one site to another.

Google’s announced elimination of third-party trackers will initially affect only 1% of randomly selected users of its Chrome browser, before being widespread by the end of 2024. This is not a big surprise : Google announced four years ago almost to the day that these computer files used to track Internet users from one site to another were going to be banned. The operation ultimately began two years late. Apple, with its Safari browser, and Mozilla with Firefox have banned them for several years.

What exactly are these third-party trackers, also called “cookies” and, in English, “cookies”? They must first be distinguished from computer files that websites install on their visitors’ computers. These files allow certain information to be stored in memory, useful for the user’s connection or configuration choices, and are only used by the site visited. Particularly under the influence of European laws, their installation now requires approval from the Internet user.

Third-party trackers are set up by external companies whose specialty is to collect information on Internet users throughout their activities, even after they have left the visited site. They are widely used for targeted advertising.

The information on Internet users that they collect, theoretically anonymous, includes location and browsing habits. It is sold to other companies which can compile all the information on the Internet user.

The ban on these third-party trackers is undeniably good news for the protection of privacy, believes Jean-Philippe Couture, cybersecurity specialist at Mirego, a Quebec digital marketing agency. “Concretely, we can no longer track user habits so easily from one site to another. And for Google, which still controls 60% of the browser market, to do so, that has an impact. »

If the principle of eliminating third-party trackers seems simple, its application by Google and the replacement of these files have encountered numerous obstacles. In fact, the search engine giant is juggling five distinct methods, as part of a larger project called the Privacy Sandbox. In 2021, an attempt was made to implement an alternative solution called FLoC, which generated cohorts of users with similar fields of interest.

“It didn’t work, there was a lot of discontent from the internet community who had the impression that Google was trying to impose its own standard,” explains Mr. Couture.

FLoC was officially abandoned in January 2022 and replaced by a new proposal, Topics, presented as less invasive, which notably labels Internet users according to 471 categories.

The recently announced abandonment of third-party trackers is awaiting the opinion of the British Competition and Markets Authority “on competition issues”, explains Google in a blog post.

This is indeed a potentially perverse effect of the elimination of third-party tracers, analyzes Jean-Philippe Couture. “Advertisers no longer have access to user information, but Google continues to hoard it. Advertisers will have to go to Google to get them. »

How do advertisers, particularly in Quebec, perceive this seemingly inevitable movement towards the end of third-party trackers? We are far from panic, specifies the cybersecurity specialist from the outset, firstly because the trend has been known for years. It adds to the growing popularity of ad blockers.

Result: the user data used by advertisers has been less reliable for a long time.

“What we see is that the figures that we have or that our clients obtain using analytical tools do not have an absolute value. We already take this into account in the way we use them. Google’s announcement adds more vagueness…”