With the number of people using the Internet in the millions, online privacy has been one concern that has never been more important. Fortunately, a good number of today’s browsers have been implementing changes to ensure its users that they are serious in providing them with more online privacy.
The most used browsers have come up with a number of tools to help in protecting you from first-party (used for things such as retaining your login information) and third-party (mainly used by advertisers to get information and track your behavior online) tracking cookies. Other efforts are directed towards fingerprinting, which tracks you by collecting details about your system configuration, which are then turned into your “fingerprint.”
Firefox introduces enhanced tracking protection
Trackers have already been blocked by Firefox way back September 2019. The browser utilizes Enhanced Tracking Protection, a customizable feature. This feature blocks trackers on a list of known trackers called the Disconnect list, which means not every third-party tracker is blocked. However, cookies that track across sites are also blocked by Firebox’s feature.
You can check if Enhanced Tracking Protection is enabled by checking the small shield icon to the left of the address bar. If the icon is purple, Firefox is blocking trackers. If it’s gray, there are no trackers to block. If it’s gray and crossed out, tracking protection is disabled for that site.
What has Chrome done?
Chrome’s December release, Version 79, was all about improved security of passwords. In February’s update, Version 80 sees a new system for sorting cookies and blocking them from being slowly implemented. While first-party cookies are still allowed, third-party ones would need to have a same-site setting, ensuring that secure connections are used to access the sites.
Google also says that Chrome will phase out third-party cookies in two years in favor of an alternative system to cookies using new technologies Google is developing.
On the edge, but secure
Not to be outdone by Chrome and Firefox, Microsoft’s latest update of its Edge browser has user privacy as a priority. Many have praised the new Edge’s privacy settings that are allegedly easier to use and understand compared to Chrome’s. Edge’s privacy settings are so powerful that users are being asked by the websites to disable their ad blockers even though they don’t have one installed. That means that the privacy settings of Edge can be an ad block in disguise.
Edge offers a one-click-to-fix experience that’s easy for anyone to control the degree of privacy they want while browsing the web. That’s to say, it’s quick and easy if you don’t really know what to look for, and you’re simply looking to be left alone by trackers – a basic method to browse the web without being, well, tracked.
Chrome and its eventual separation from cookies
However, in a rather surprising move, Google announced in January that its Chrome browser will be supporting cookies in 2022 anymore. This is quite the opposite of their stance only months ago when they promoted their Privacy Sandbox initiative, which was pro-cookies and anti-browser fingerprinting.
Google’s decision to remove cookies from its browser comes with a couple of caveats. “Some browsers have reacted to these concerns by blocking third-party cookies, but we believe this has unintended consequences that can negatively impact both users and the web ecosystem. By undermining the business model of many ad-supported websites, blunt approaches to cookies encourage the use of opaque techniques such as fingerprinting… We believe that we as a community can, and must, do better,” Google wrote, as the reasoning for their 2022 delay.
Cookies for fingerprints?
So now, the issue with Chrome gradually distancing itself from cookies is allegedly encouraging browser fingerprinting. Many websites dust your digital fingerprints. How? They collect details that you can’t hide from them about your device. Even if you have “private browsing” mode on or clear your tracker cookies, these websites still have that ability what they get from these fingerprints is a unique profile of you, as unique as your fingerprints.
Fingerprinting happens when sites force your browser to hand over innocent-looking but largely unchanging technical information about your computer, such as the resolution of your screen, your operating system or the fonts you have installed. Combined, those details create a picture of your device as unique as the skin on your thumb.
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