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Google May Ditch Cookies for New User-Tracking Tech

Everyone loves a cookie, especially when they're fresh out of the oven. Advertisers love cookies too, even the virtual kind that follows consumers around the Internet like an attention-hungry puppy. Google is reportedly discontinuing use of the latter obnoxious versions, but not for the sake of your privacy; Google is brewing up something even better to scoop up your browsing habits.

USA Today reports that Google is taking a different approach to tracking web surfers by developing an anonymous identifier for advertising (AdID) that will replace third-party cookies. Unnamed sources told the paper that the AdID would be transmitted to advertisers and ad networks only if they have agreed to basic guidelines. This method will ultimately give consumers more control over their privacy and how they browse the Internet, or so sources claim.

MORE: Should You Trust U.S. Companies With your Data?

Google will reportedly contact industry participants, government agencies and consumer groups in the next few weeks and months about the new tech, but for now, it's all unofficial jabber. "Technological enhancements can improve users' security while ensuring the Web remains economically viable," Google's Rob Shilkin told the paper. "We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they're all at very early stages."

Google accounts for about a third of worldwide online ad revenue. Around 96 percent of the company's revenue is generated through online advertising, 70 percent of which stems from AdWords, a system that allows advertisers to place text, banners and media-rich ads on Google's search result pages. There's also the AdSense network for owners of third-party sites to advertise their products while displaying related ads on their site.

On the consumer end, cookies are typically baked in two forms: by the visited website (AKA first-party) for storing local information like the user's login credentials and whatnot, and by third-parties for collecting data on browsing activity. These cookies fuel the online advertising system so that ads are tailored to the individual Web surfer's tastes. These cookies have also become a highly controversial issue regarding privacy and the user's right to browse the Internet without eyes watching their every click (save for suspicious spouses and the NSA).

As an example, Apple actually began blocking cookies in its Safari browser back in 2003, and resorted to its own ad identifiers in the mobile version just last year. However, Google was forced to pay $22 million in damages last year for allegedly sneaking cookies into Safari when users visited sites in Google's DoubleClick ad network. Google previously told Safari users that they would be exempt from tracking and ad targeting because of the browser's default security settings. But Google actively circumvented Safari's cookie blocking settings in many cases, the FTC stated.

That said, will Google's new AdID tech really give users more power over their privacy, or give Google more power over how users are tracked and tagged on the Internet? Many industry watchers believe it's a bad idea to hand over more power to big companies like Google and Apple. Others believe that there still needs to be some kind of tracking technology for advertisers, whether it's a new tech or continuing the use of third-party cookies.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau is currently battling Mozilla, the company behind the popular Firefox browser. Mozilla announced a new policy earlier this year that was supposed to block third-party cookies in Firefox 22 by default. By May, those plans were put on hold. In the eyes of advertisers, Google's solution won't be quite as drastic.

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