DuckDuckGo takes sides against the new iteration of Google’s tracking technology: through a post on its official blog, the search engine “privacy-first” announced that its extension for Chrome will also block Topics and FLEDGE, which Google has started testing with a limited number of users and who are part of the Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to find a new balance between protecting the privacy of Internet users and the needs of the advertising sector.
DuckDuckGo’s argument for its decision stems from the fact that Google intends to enable new technologies by default, but not only: These new methods enable creepy targeting of advertisements and other content without third-party cookies. Even if Google tries to peddling them as more privacy-friendly, the point is simply that tracking, targeting and profiling are always tracking, targeting and profiling, regardless of what you call them.
WHAT ARE TOPICS AND FLEDGE
DuckDuckGo’s reasoning is not entirely unfounded. After all, it is the reason why the first iteration of the Privacy Sandbox, known as FLoC (short for Federated Learning of Cohorts) was abandoned after the many almost universal criticisms received (even from DuckDuckGo itself). The idea of the Topics is an evolution of FLoC: basically, the basic principle remains the same – the browser identifies the user’s interests based on the pages visited – but instead of generating an identification code for each cohort to which one belongs as it happened in the FLoC, only a subset of the interests expressed by the browser are shared in the Topics.
FLEDGE, on the other hand, is a new method that promises greater privacy even in so-called retargeting or remarketing, a technique for showing ads for previously visited products on sites completely unrelated to that product. For example, I look at a smartphone on Amazon but then I decide not to buy it; a few days later I read a recipe on a cooking blog and see the advertisement for that smartphone, right on Amazon. The idea is that the user tends to reconsider the purchase a few days later – even better if there is a new discount or promotion of some kind.
So far, retargeting has been based on third-party cookies, but with FLEDGE Google is working to make the browser do everything, again based on the interests identified by the Topics. DuckDuckGo says however that the vast majority of people are “decidedly opposed” to this practice, which is considered” invasive and disturbing”.
In concrete, then: the DuckDuckGo Chrome extension called Privacy Essentials, regularly available in the Chrome Web Store, will block both technologies from version 2022.4.18. The update should arrive automatically shortly.
The developers argue that the extension is not the only way to protect your privacy: to begin with, you can use a browser other than Chrome since by now the vast majority have already deactivated or plan to deactivate support for third-party cookies. – but without trying to propose alternative solutions.
Or, if you really don’t want to give up the Google browser, you can disable various options related to advertising, data collection and Privacy Sandbox, but the list is quite long – and you risk losing some features that are very convenient. DuckDuckGo recommends:
- In the Privacy and Security section, disable everything related to Privacy Sandbox
- Log out of Chrome
- Disable Chrome sign-in
- Don’t sync any data with Chrome
Nor is it enough. To be completely safe, you must also take action on your Google account:
- Turn off Web & App Activity from the Activity Manager
- Disable Ads Personalization
- DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials | Estensione Chrome | Chrome Web Store, Gratis