In lieu of cookies, Google proposes ‘Trust Tokens’ to verify users without revealing identity

Last year, Google announced the “Privacy Sandbox” initiative to build a more private web through open standards. The biggest move was in January when Chrome said it would “phase out support” for third-party cookies. One alternative being proposed and now available for developer testing are “Trust Tokens” to deal with ad fraud.

Google’s two-year approach to getting rid of third-party cookies is of course informed by its ad business and how businesses on the web today work. It wants to offer privacy-preserving alternatives for ad selection and conversion measurement. To combat advertising fraud and identify real users, Google is proposing the Trust Tokens API. 

Websites and other services will be able to determine whether a view/visit is from an actual user and not a bot. When verifying authenticity, Trust Tokens do so without revealing a user’s identity because they are all identical, thus preventing tracking across the web. The company notes how they are cryptographically signed by the issuer to prevent forgeries.

Trust Tokens are available now for developer testing, with Google planning to move to “live testing soon.” These proposals are being discussed in the W3C forum, with Google saying its “ads team is actively contributing to this dialog.”

Google supports first-party cookies to allow services to have direct relationships with customers but sees that third-party ones are being used to fingerprint and track users “in a covert manner.” 

We believe that any attempts to track people or obtain information that could identify them, without their knowledge and permission, should be blocked. We’ll continue to take a strong position against these practices.

Google announced Trust Tokens alongside an ‘Ads Transparency Spotlight’ Chrome extension and plans for a tweaked “About this ad” card.

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