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Google Businesses The Internet

Google To Monitor Surfing Habits For Ad-Serving 219

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the do-you-see-what-i-see dept.
superglaze (ZDNet UK) writes "Google is gearing up to launch cookie-based 'interest-based' advertising, which involves monitoring the user's passage across various WebSense partner sites. The idea is to have better-targeted advertising, which is not a million miles away from what Phorm is trying to do — the difference, it seems at first glance, is that Google is being relatively up-front about its intentions."
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Google To Monitor Surfing Habits For Ad-Serving

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  • by plover (150551) * on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:47AM (#27149453) Homepage Journal
    Isn't that how Doubleclick made their fortune?
  • evil? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tritonman (998572) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:47AM (#27149455)
    I don't get what is so evil about using cookies to determine what kind of advertisements you would be more interested in. I don't mind having ads more tailored to my interests.
    • Re:evil? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vishbar (862440) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:52AM (#27149517)
      It's evil because it violates your privacy, and there's really no easy way to opt-out. Thankfully we at Slashdot are most likely gifted with the technological acumen to block these cookies...many others, however, won't. If I choose to browse porn while my kids/wife/whatever are asleep, I don't want Google keeping a record of that (and showing my kids a "targeted" advertisement for Hairy Hardcore Latinas Gone Loco 3.5). If it in any way gets into the wrong hands (or Google decides to switch their business strategy/privacy policy) then I could be seriously screwed if I decide to run for public office.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by cgenman (325138)

        Along these lines, never buy anything dirty from Amazon.com.

        Umm... That's what someone told me.

      • by Daimanta (1140543)

        "Thankfully we at Slashdot are most likely gifted with the technological acumen to block these cookies...many others, however, won't."

        I'm cookiemonster you insensitive clod!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by value_added (719364)

        I don't want Google keeping a record of that (and showing my kids a "targeted" advertisement for Hairy Hardcore Latinas Gone Loco 3.5)

        My first thought (modulo the "hairy" part), but I doubt that the makers of such entertainment advertise much.

        I'd keep an open mind, personally. When I visit the Amazon site, for example, I receive plenty of targetted advertising. Some of it is useful (interesting new hardware), some of it absurd (recommending a book on Microsoft Server 2008 because I bought the Sendmail Bat

        • by c0p0n (770852)

          [..] and the sponsors of most any sporting event insist their american beer doesn't taste like piss [...]

          There, fixed it for you.

          • There, fixed it for you.

            I was trying to be polite. But now that you mention it, I'd have no trouble at all being subjected to a Guiness ad, for example. Thing is, it's companies with shitty or otherwise suspect products that need advertising the most. How else to sell their products?

          • Well the other stuff costs twice as much. at a sporting event that's no joke. 8 dollar newcastle? no thanks.

      • > It's evil because it violates your privacy, and there's really no easy way to opt-out.

        Of course there is. You can block all Google and DoubleClick cookies (search and news work fine with cookies blocked), or just stay away from Google altogether. Nothing requires you to use any Google services. You do so entirely for your own convenience.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vishbar (862440)
          Ads are different than other services. Advertising is a "push" service rather than a "pull" service. I don't choose to receive advertising...by its very nature, it's thrown at me. Google/DC is so pervasive in this regard that it would be difficult not to use it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by kheldan (1460303)
        I think if you're using NoScript, AdBlock Plus, and Flashblock with FireFox, then you're able to completely opt-out on whatever you don't want to see.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo (153816)

        It's evil because it violates your privacy, and there's really no easy way to opt-out.

        No?

        Thankfully we at Slashdot are most likely gifted with the technological acumen to block these cookies...

        It's true. I was able to install the Firefox extension "CookieSafe" to solve this problem. I can't imagine how an ordinary user might be able to do something that complicated, but I have hopes that in two or three thousand years the human race will have evolved that far.

        • by vishbar (862440)
          Don't give the "ordinary user" too much credit. The "ordinary user" still uses IE...and the majority of "ordinary users" probably don't know any definition for "cookie" other than chocolate chip.
      • If I choose to browse porn while my kids/wife/whatever are asleep, I don't want Google keeping a record of that (and showing my kids a "targeted" advertisement for Hairy Hardcore Latinas Gone Loco 3.5).

        Then log in as you and have your kids log in as themselves. Web browsers use a separate set of cookies for each profile, and they automatically create a separate profile for each operating-system-level user account. Besides, I'd bet there's some sort of TOS restriction against showing erotic ads on sites that haven't opted in to erotic ads.

      • It's evil because it violates your privacy, and there's really no easy way to opt-out. Thankfully we at Slashdot are most likely gifted with the technological acumen to block these cookies...many others, however, won't. If I choose to browse porn while my kids/wife/whatever are asleep, I don't want Google keeping a record of that (and showing my kids a "targeted" advertisement for Hairy Hardcore Latinas Gone Loco 3.5). If it in any way gets into the wrong hands (or Google decides to switch their business strategy/privacy policy) then I could be seriously screwed if I decide to run for public office.

        People who share a computer user identity with their kids/wife/whatever forfeit any expectation of privacy from those kids/wife/whatever. In the modern world it isn't just idiotic to share an account for security and privacy reasons, it is a usability problem for non-casual users.

    • Re:evil? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Onaga (1369777) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:58AM (#27149583)

      I would rather have tech and sci-fi books marketed to me when I go to Amazon. The big sale on may actually be the price tipping point for me to buy that. I don't really care about a big sale on that blue gem pendant necklace with 18k chain links. So yes, targeted marketing seems good.

      The other side of the fence says, "ZOMG, there is a database with my surfing habits that can be accessed by the government and companies with money willing to pay for it." Some people may not care. Others think that this will allow Big Brother to build a fluff case against them. The middle group just thinks it is a private activity that should not be monitored by others.

      I'm in more of the middle group. I have conversations with my wife all the time that are private. Nothing shameful or perverse, but just amicably intimate. I want them kept private, not indexed. I believe that is the heart of most of the objection.

      • You are only considering the scenario where you, the consumer, wins out. What if they target a sale on Monty Python crap to people who aren't obsessed with Monty Python, and based on your web history they determine you do not get offered the sale price?

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Advertising exists to manipulate you into making choices that you would not otherwise. If they are able to target ads at me, that just means they're better at manipulating me. I don't want that. You can show me all the monistat commercials you want, it's not going to affect me. Show me ads for something I want, and it will probably interfere with my decision making process. I'd rather do my own research and make my own decisions, and not be affected by manipulation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by digitalunity (19107)

        Not all advertising is manipulation. For example, look at coupons for your local Cub Foods or Krogers in the newspaper. The coupons are basically the retailer notifying you that if you bring in the coupon, they will allow you to purchase a specific product for a reduced price.

        The coupons are often for things you would not normally purchase, but with a reduced price the product may offer a better value and thus be worthy of your purchase. There is no manipulation involved in this case.

        Another example are adv

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Hatta (162192)

          Not all advertising is manipulation. For example, look at coupons for your local Cub Foods or Krogers in the newspaper. The coupons are basically the retailer notifying you that if you bring in the coupon, they will allow you to purchase a specific product for a reduced price.

          It's still manipulation. Creating the perception that I'm getting a deal will make me more likely to buy something I would not have otherwise.

          • What if perception matches reality?

            I saw a coupon for 2 gallons of milk for $2.98. Now, normally I purchase milk relatively rarely because of it's high cost.

            However, in this case, it was $1.49 per gallon. This comes out to about 6 pounds per dollar, or roughly 15 cents per pound. This is approximately the same cost as the wholesaler rate for milk in my area, which seems to imply to me that either the store is selling milk with coupons nearly at a loss to encourage buyers to come in, OR the store is screwing

      • by mike2R (721965)

        Advertising exists to manipulate you into making choices that you would not otherwise. If they are able to target ads at me, that just means they're better at manipulating me. I don't want that. You can show me all the monistat commercials you want, it's not going to affect me. Show me ads for something I want, and it will probably interfere with my decision making process. I'd rather do my own research and make my own decisions, and not be affected by manipulation.

        That's just crap, let me guess: government

    • And for those who do care:

      1. Turn off cookies (or just whitelist them)
      2. AdBlock Plus
      3. ???
      4. No Profit!
    • by ukyoCE (106879)

      You say that now, but when your mom is standing behind you as you search for movie ticket show times, and the ads are all about "Big Heads In Deep Holes", you might think again...

      http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2006/10/18/ [penny-arcade.com]

    • by J.Y.Kelly (828209)

      On the evil scale I don't think this move by Google comes close to what Phorm is trying to do. Tracking your behaviour across multiple sites is kind of creepy, but in Google's case it will be limited to their partner sites. Opting out would simply be a matter of deleting the Google cookie at the end of each session. Were they to do this I'm sure that a 'Don't track me bro' firefox extension would quickly appear.

      Phorm is much worse. They intercept your connection at your ISP and they process everythin

  • Maybe not so bad. (Score:5, Informative)

    by AltGrendel (175092) <ag-slashdot@exit0.COMMAus minus punct> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:50AM (#27149491) Homepage

    By visiting Google's ad-preferences page, the user can opt out of having their surfing habits tracked, or input their own preferences for the subject matter of ads they would like to see.

    At least you can opt-out.

    • Add-on idea. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Samschnooks (1415697)

      At least you can opt-out.

      I set my browser to delete all cookies every time I close down. I guess that means I'd have to go to that page every time I'm on the internet to opt out.

      That would be a great add-on. One that, upon Firefox startup, goes and opt-outs for you.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you paid attention to the opt-out page google offers a plugin that does exactly this.

        • A plug-in? Surely not...

          How about, Google stores a cookie with a value that says "don't track me with Google cookies"?

          K

          • Yeah, but if you tell your browser to delete all cookies then it'll delete the Google cookie telling Google not to assign a tracking cookie to you so you'll be tracked by a Google cookie... unless you tell your browser to delete all your cookies... or tell Google not to track you... in which case they give you a non-tracking cookie... but if you delete cookies... then Google will track you... because it doesn't see the non-tracking cookie... which you delete so Google has to...

            error... error... does not co

          • Most people are too lazy to opt either in OR out.

            So for the advertisers opt-out is what they'll choose, and yet that's the quickest way to the black-list of anyone who has the knowledge to make that choice.

          • by BCW2 (168187)
            The only cookie that shows when I go online is the old DoubleClick optout one. Wonder if the slimey bastards still honor it?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dfm3 (830843)
        In Firefox, you can set an exception for a particular website. Just allow only the opt-out cookie to be stored when you close the browser. I have Firefox set up to delete all cookies except for those from particular websites which I don't want to have to log in to many times per day (such as Slashdot).
      • by Joe U (443617)

        I set my browser to delete all cookies every time I close down. I guess that means I'd have to go to that page every time I'm on the internet to opt out.

        Why bother? You're deleting your cookies, they can't track you anyway.

      • I set my browser to delete all cookies every time I close down.

        Turning off persistent cookies would appear to make online banking much more inconvenient due to new machine identification features that depend on persistent cookies. If you don't have Chase.com's cookie in your browser, for instance, Chase won't let you look at your account until you reactivate your account through e-mail, phone, or SMS.

  • by vincanis (1496217) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:01AM (#27149635)

    While potentially problematic, this behavior by Google does not rise to the level of Phorm for two simple reasons. First, rather than sitting with your ISP and tracking your browsing regardless of site, this technique will only apply to the (admittedly large) number of sites containing Google ads. Second, the release of a browser opt-out plugin is far beyond anything which would have been allowed for Phorm.

    The remaining question for users is: Has someone yet developed a plugin to block google ads entirely? And if not, how long will it take now?

  • "The new ad-serving system works by downloading a DoubleClick cookie to the user's browser to track their path through various AdSense-using sites"

    So, am I right in thinking that if I reject all DoubleClick cookies I'll render this system null and void? I have most of my cookies set to be session cookies anyway (as should most people, since 99.9999999% of all cookies are redundant), so I'm not actually sure how cookie based ad tracking would affect me in the long run?

    • by blueg3 (192743) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:21AM (#27149925)

      (as should most people, since 99.9999999% of all cookies are redundant)

      There's a word in English, "most", appropriate for this situation. It's not necessary or helpful to invent obviously-made-up-numbers to illustrate "most". I doubt you have data to back up that only one in one billion cookies is useful.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by genner (694963)

        (as should most people, since 99.9999999% of all cookies are redundant)

        There's a word in English, "most", appropriate for this situation. It's not necessary or helpful to invent obviously-made-up-numbers to illustrate "most". I doubt you have data to back up that only one in one billion cookies is useful.

        I agree 110 percent!

      • > I doubt you have data to back up that only one in one billion cookies is useful.

        I duuno. Considering that there are at least 100 million sites and many try to send me thousands of cookies...

    • by Firethorn (177587)

      I'm not actually sure how cookie based ad tracking would affect me in the long run?

      Well, the theory is that if you browse for a while, say Slashdot, ArsTech, Dan's Data, newegg, etc, all end up using this system.

      Google, will through the tracking, eventually build a profile of you and start advertising computer and interesting flashlight ads over, say, feminine hygene products. All bets are off if you have a female who browses using the same profile, of course(or are female and visit 'feminine' sites).

      If you browse car sites all the time, it might start showing you cars.

      The idea is that,

      • The problem with this theory in my case is that I block all ads and almost all cookies (including those from Google and DoubleClick).

        • by Firethorn (177587)

          Well, google might be approaching it from the end that we're a lost generation due to the excesses of the 'punch the monkey' era before effective blocking became available and retailers realized that the ads had gotten intrusive to the point of reducing their effectiveness.

          They go for the ones they can get, in other words.

  • Having no faith in the integrity of Anything on the Web, I choose to block those ads since I won't be purchasing anything, anyway. I use NoScript as well, and don't hesitate to block Google from setting cookies, even though I use their search engine often. Call me a thief, I have no qualms.

  • http://www.customizegoogle.com/ [customizegoogle.com] Removes click tracking, google analytics cookies, and a lot more.
  • by Khopesh (112447) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:17AM (#27149875) Homepage Journal

    This is one of the reasons I avoid Google; they know more about statistics than I do (and that's a lot!) ... they have that motto don't be evil for exactly this reason; too much information coming from too many sources, including your personal information, means they can know you better than you know yourself, and thus they can manipulate you to their agenda and the agenda of their advertisers.

    Think of it like the "gateway drug" concept; they advertise something you might have bought (but might not have bought) and that puts you over the edge and you buy it. Then they push something similar and you buy it for the same reason. After several iterations, you find yourself buying things you would never otherwise have had interest in. Your friends and family are supposed to have this power. Not a corporation whose first goal is appeasing their bottom line and therefore their customer corporations (whose first goal is selling merchandise to appease their own bottom lines).

    To anybody outraged at things like the government accessing your library book list, this is the same thing. Except even if you opt out, Google just got that better at targeting you with ads.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      This is one of the reasons I avoid Google;

      So, I assume you also avoid purchasing things with your credit card? Or with any kind of club card? Or interacting with any company that sells any of their business records to third parties (like, for example, car dealerships)? Or generally interacting with the civilized world?

      Look, here's the deal: the privacy genie was out of the bottle long before Google was ever conceived of. Companies like Axciom and Experian already know, and have known for decades, what

      • by Khopesh (112447) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @11:21AM (#27150977) Homepage Journal

        So, I assume you also avoid purchasing things with your credit card? Or with any kind of club card? Or interacting with any company that sells any of their business records to third parties (like, for example, car dealerships)? Or generally interacting with the civilized world?

        Yes, I avoid such things. My credit card is for emergencies and rare online purchases (though sometimes I use Simon Gift Cards for anonymity except for the whole delivery address thing). I opt out of information sharing when given the option (this is usually a legally required option). What's wrong with cash? When they ask you for address or zip information in the store, you can always say "no thanks."

        Look, here's the deal: the privacy genie was out of the bottle long before Google was ever conceived of. Companies like Axciom and Experian already know, and have known for decades, what demo you're in, what products you buy, whether or not you have a lease on your car that's about to expire, and probably a million other things I haven't even thought of. In short: they already know you better than you know yourself. So who really cares about Google, honestly?

        I disagree. Corporations have been collecting data, but at a snail's pace, and largely on far less sophisticated equipment. This limits the relational and learning algorithms that are economically feasible. Even today, few corporations have the penetration and computing power (and engineering prowess) to collect that volume of data and pull off massive statistical crunching like Google. Also, those other corporations don't read your email, monitor what you read on a word-for-word basis, or tap your television (youtube) and phone (gtalk). Google does. The internet is instantaneous and all-encompassing, whereas mail-order, phone order, and physical shopping doesn't give anywhere near the same level of detail, and the little detail it yields is very slow-flowing.

        Oh, and as an aside, with things like social networking out there, even if you try to disengage from the rest of the world, your friends and family probably haven't, and right now, they're posting pictures about you, writing stories about you, and generally divulging things about you that you probably wish they wouldn't. So, if I were you, I'd find yourself a nice cabin in the woods and hide out there, because frankly, I don't see that you have any other option.

        My friends and family have been respectfully asked not to post photos of me. So far, this has worked (for the most part). I don't have an account on centralized blog sites like livejournal, and while I do have accounts on slashdot and even facebook, they don't say too much about me personally. I understand that we're losing our privacy, but I want to control how that happens and limit its damage, specifically as it pertains to how I am targeted through advertising. Your friends must be jerks if you think like that.

        You don't actually have an independently functioning brain. Instead, apparently your brain is a slave to the whims of whatever advertisement happens to be presented to you.

        So, nevermind. In fact, ignore this post entirely. It probably just confused you.

        Oh, good. Now we're throwing around insults. Recall how I said I know a thing or two about statistics. I also know about brand-building and marketing in general. I date a psychology PhD. Let's just say that nobody's brain functions independently; we are all biased by our environments. If you like, I can obtain a dozen peer-reviewed papers that present compelling evidence to that fact. Just consider: why do companies advertise? why do those advertisements often do nothing but say the company name? The answer is that they are building a brand, which equates to trust.

        • by Abcd1234 (188840)

          I disagree. Corporations have been collecting data, but at a snail's pace, and largely on far less sophisticated equipment.

          Wow, you really have no idea. Look, I've seen the Experian categories. The level of granularity in their data is staggering. And a little disturbing. Trust me, they know more about you than you ever realized.

          Even today, few corporations have the penetration and computing power (and engineering prowess) to collect that volume of data and pull off massive statistical crunching like G

          • by Khopesh (112447)

            Experian is a regulated credit monitoring authority. They have done nothing to build up their brand as a trusted source (they are constantly cited for bad service, even). Certainly, are akin to Google in statistical prowess, but Google is the one with direct access to people's lives by quite a few methods that Experian simply does not have. If Experian can do so much with just credit data, think of where Google can go.

            As to "brainwashing," that term is an overboard exaggeration of the bias advertising

    • This "you" you speak of is a remarkably weak person. Might it be yourself?

      > Except even if you opt out, Google just got that better at targeting you with ads.

      No. I "opt out" by blocking all their cookies: they know nothing about me. And even if they "target" me with ads I never see them due to Privoxy.

  • Sign me up please (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jaqenn (996058) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:25AM (#27149979)
    Perhaps I undervalue my security and privacy, but I keep hoping for an increase in the targeted advertising I experience.

    I don't want to refinance my house. I don't want to find relationships online. I don't want to find old classmates. I don't want to earn money by signing up for free trials. Even though I don't want these things, I see these ads a lot.

    I like videogames and boardgames. I like anime. I like paintball. I like cooking. I already go out of my way to learn about new products and discounts in these areas.

    I would love to surrender information about my interests in order to replace the ads I don't care about with ads that I do care about.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by John Hasler (414242)

      I would consider doing that as well, but there is one problem: I have never seen an ad I care about.

      • by Jaqenn (996058)
        I mostly agree with you, but I've had a few notable exceptions.

        For instance, I wanted to buy the board game "Ticket To Ride". Turn off ad-block, and go do a google-search for it. The ads are along the lines of "Ticket to Ride, $32!", "Buy Ticket to Ride, $25!", and "$17 off Ticket to Ride!".

        ...Unfortunately, all of these websites were an inferior deal to what I found at thoughthammer.com, but the principle is there. I was happy to see ads for a product I was interested in.
    • by Gorath99 (746654)

      That reminds me of Yahoo! Music.

      Some years ago I was using this service (called LAUNCHcast at the time). It's basically like Pandora or Last.FM in that it profiles your taste in music and lets you listen to music that fits your profile.

      Obviously, this was a service that I didn't mind profiling me. (Limited to my taste in music and some basic demographics, of course.) I know that the service had a pretty good picture of my taste in music, as it was pretty good at suggesting music that I enjoyed. As such, Y!M

    • by chord.wav (599850)
      I don't care about it either as long as my secret fetish for high-heel women shoes remains secret when browsing in front of my wife...
  • Google != Phorm (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dynamoo (527749) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:29AM (#27150039) Homepage
    There are several key differences between Google and Phorm. Google will use a cookie-based system to track you as you visit sites with the relevant Google Ads. Phorm take the data directly out of your clickstream.

    You can easily opt-out or block Google ads. You cannot do this with Phorm as it will still monitor your clickstream regardless of whether you have opted out or not.

    Google is a per-user based system. Because you are tracked by cookie, it will serve ads based on YOUR cookie ID only (or maybe your Google account, whatever). Phorm tracks by IP address, so if you share an IP address via NAT (most people do) then it cannot easily distinguish between users. This leads to the possibility that inappropriate ads may be served up (porn, pharma etc).

    In any case, what Google is suggesting is not new and basically has been around in one way or another since the dawn of internet advertising. What Phorm is trying to do *is* new and is almost the same as monitoring systems such as the sort of thing ECHELON does (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECHELON [wikipedia.org]).

    • by Inda (580031)
      Hate Phorm but I hate FUD just as much.

      Phorm have said, in one of their published interviews, they will not serve porn, poker, or any other 'bad' ads.
  • Absolute power... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ghostis (165022) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:33AM (#27150133) Homepage

    At some point, if not already, Google will realize how much power they have. In my experience, companies eventually act primarily in their own interests. I think Google will choose more and more to use that power for their benefit, rather than the benefit of their customers. "Do no evil" indicates they knew their potential power from day one. At this point, if they wanted to "do evil," it would be hard to stop them.

    -Ghostis

  • > By visiting Google's ad-preferences page, the user can opt out of having their surfing
    > habits tracked...

    The user can also opt out of having their surfing habits tracked by blocking Google and DoubleClick cookies.

  • Google is being pretty forth coming about this. I would much rather have google be forthcoming about it then just secretly do it like DoubleClick originally did and most websites do...they just don't tell you about it. Just look at beacon, Phorm, etc.

    I mean google is coming right out and saying that they are doing this and they are making it as painless as possible to opt-out. Such as using browser plug-ins. Frankly you can't blame them for not making it opt-in, after all then no one would do it and it woul

  • I would like Google to make a "Choose your own Ads" Preference page for ads.

    Give me a page filled with categories of advertisements, and create a prioritized list of what I like, as well as which ones to completely remove. Things at the top would be highly probable, things lower down would get a low chance of being shown.

    Anyone who would get rid of all ads would probably use something like Ad-Block anyway, and it would let me actually get an ad for my favorite websites that I would *Want* to see (Like
  • According to these guys: http://www.statowl.com/third_party_cookie_support.php [statowl.com] Roughly 9% of Internet usage will not be trackable using 3rd party cookies. I am not really for or against Google's decision. But I think it is interesting to see what percentage of Internet users are aware of tracking mechanisms and are also against being trackable.

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