Due to various political and healthcare data breaches setting off alarm bells, the general public are slowly realizing that their data is at risk of being used against them in potentially harmful ways. At issue as well, “big data” collection is such a new technology that there are few laws in place that protect against personal data mining, though there is a growing consensus that they are needed.
After receiving a €150 million ($169 million) fine from France due to their current data tracking policies, Google has put forward a new privacy strategy to relinquish control back to its users by offering a system that focuses on a more protected, user-centered experience.
Previously, the tech giant used small files known as cookies to track our browsing habits. These cookies were passed on through algorithms to track our interests and browsing history and feed personalized advertisements and content back to us. This information also gets passed onto dozens of companies each time you visit their website.
It’s no wonder that people feel out of control of their own data! Especially when third party companies can easily purchase this data and use it for their own murky motives.
Welcome to “Topics”
Instead of cookies, Google has introduced a new way of compiling aggregated data into a feature called “Topics.” They have said that switching to Topics will still allow for targeted advertising, however, Google will not have direct access to this history. Instead, all data will be stored in the local browser and personal device, without ever being sent to an externally controlled server.
What’s more, there will be a timestamp on any activity that expires after three weeks, and only three categories will be available to advertisers each week. In addition, users of Chrome can raise their privacy settings and disable Topics entirely.
While it’s a small step in the right direction, there is hope that this change in how Google approaches data will go a ways to putting privacy back into the users’ hands. It is also a shift that provides an example for other big tech companies to follow.