Wednesday, 07 November 2018 09:00

Google's Chrome cares for bottom line, not users: EFF claim

Google's Chrome cares for bottom line, not users: EFF claim Pixabay

Google's Chrome and Microsoft's Edge are the only widely-used browsers which have no inbuilt protection against tracking users, the digital rights body, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says.

Chrome, the most widely used browser globally, has good features for usability and security, the EFF's Bennett Cyphers and Mitch Stoltz said in a detailed blog post about way Google has made its users take a backseat to its bottom line.

They pointed out that Firefox, with an 11% worldwide share, had tracking protection on by default in private browsing, while Safari, with a 6% share, had such protection on by default.

Internet Explorer, which had 7% of global users, had tracking off by default, the same as Opera, which enjoyed 4% of global share.

But Chrome, with 68% of global users had no tracking protection at all, the same as Edge, which, however, had just 4% of global users.

Cyphers and Stoltz said Google also had the biggest search engine, mobile operating system, video host and email service, but most importantly was the biggest server of digital advertising.

"Google controls 42% of the digital advertising market, significantly more than Facebook, its largest rival, and vastly more than anyone else," they wrote.

"Its tracking codes appear on three quarters of the top million sites on the Web. Eighty-six percent of Alphabet’s revenue (Google’s parent company) comes from advertising. That means all of Alphabet has a vested interest in helping track people and serve them ads, even when that puts the company at odds with its users."

They said this could explain why Google had no in-built tracking protection in Chrome. Google wanted users to keep "feeding back data about all their online activity to Google. Google has an incentive not to protect Chrome users’ privacy, and it appears that it sees no balancing that incentive to accommodate users’ desires".

"Google could take the lead on solving this problem. Trackers are not necessary to make the Web work, and they shouldn’t be necessary for Google to make lots (and lots) of money," the two EFF staffers wrote.

"...Google has mountains of direct information about what you want to buy through its various services, from search to Maps to Google Play. Ads don’t need to be targeted using every little bit of information about us that Google has access to via our use of its browser. A sustainable Web needs to be built on consent, not subterfuge.

"The change could start by making sure that Chrome’s features and settings always look out for the user first, blocking trackers by default. Beyond that, Chrome’s developers should have the freedom to design the best 'user agent' they can, without caving to the imperatives of Google’s advertising business.

"If this simply isn’t possible for the company, then the consumer harms of having these two conflicting business priorities under one roof may be cause for an intervention by antitrust or other legal authorities."

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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