Brave Joins Mozilla in Declaring Google’s First-Party Sets Feature Harmful to Privacy
Own Sets is a feature proposed by Google that is designed to give site owners the option to declare multiple owned sites as their own. Businesses can own multiple domain names, and with their own sets, they could get compatible browsers to handle all properties identically.
Currently, different domain names are considered third-party in most cases, even if they belong to the same company. With the new technology in place, Google could pool all of its properties to improve communication and data flows between them.
Brave believes that owned sets are detrimental to user privacy, as companies can use the feature to track users across their properties. Third party cookies, used for the same tracking purpose, will soon be a thing of the past.
Google explains that home sets “define a more realistic ‘privacy boundary’ by reflecting the actual organization of websites, which often span multiple registrable domains.” Google notes that the feature would standardize functionality for the entire Web.
Mozilla, the organization that is creating the Firefox web browser, declared harmful First-Party Sets in 2020. Feedback from Apple was positive, according to this Chrome status page.
Brave Software, maker of the Brave browser, joined Mozilla recently in declaring that proprietary sets are an anti-privacy feature. Brave’s senior director of privacy, Peter Snyder, noted on the official blog that adopting the feature would make it harder for “user-respecting browsers to protect their users’ privacy.”
Proprietary sets will allow more sites to track your behavior on the web and make it more difficult for users to predict how their information will be shared.
Snyder believes that Chrome’s dominance will likely lead to the feature being implemented in other browsers to “maintain compatibility with the Web.” Chrome has a market share of over 60% and many browsers already use the same font as Chrome. The two main exceptions are Apple’s Safari web browser and Mozilla’s Firefox. Other browsers including Microsoft Edge, Brave, Vivaldi or Opera use Chromium as a font.
Own sets allow users to be tracked across properties owned by organizations and individuals. Google could declare most of its properties as a set of its own; this would mean that if a user is known on google.com, they are also known on any other site in the home set, even if that site was never visited or was visited for the first time.
Google would know about the user visiting YouTube, Blogger, or Alphabet.com for the first time, as long as these domains are in the same home set. Worse yet, according to Snyder, users would have no control over the mechanism.
Google argues that the first sets are improving privacy as they pave the way to remove support for third-party cookies in the browser. Snyder argues that proprietary sets are not a privacy feature, but are designed to “ensure that companies can continue to identify and track people across sites.”
Google continues its work on its Privacy Sandbox project. The company stopped supporting the controversial FLoC in January 2022, replacing it with the equally controversial Topics system. The company is currently running tests of the ad system in Chrome.
Chrome’s dominance makes it hard to object to features. While browser makers can choose to ignore certain features that Google implements in Chromium and Chrome, it could lead to web compatibility issues as many developers look to Chrome first when it comes to web standards and support.
Now you: What is your opinion on first-party sets?