Uh, I'm being shown an online ad for the exact pair of glasses I'm currently wearing for the first time...— Niraj Chokshi (@NirajC) September 17, 2013
Many people, therefore, avoid cookies, either by turning them off or using services that block them. Firefox and Safari are trying to block cookies to varying degrees. Firefox is working on a default setting to block third party cookies, which Safari already does.* Google, of course, loses revenue when that happens: Fewer people see their relevant ads. Therefore, it's no surprise that the company wants to figure out a different way to serve its ads sans cookies, as USA Today's Alistair Barr reports. But how might that work?
Google did not clarify the exact technology it was working on. "We and others have a number of concepts in this area, but they're all at very early stages," a spokesperson told Barr. One of those "concepts" includes fingerprinting a technique that "allows a web site to look at the characteristics of a computer such as what plugins and software you have installed, the size of the screen, the time zone, fonts and other features of any particular machine," as Forbes's Adam Tanner explains it. Your browser transmits all sorts of information that has nothing to do with cookies. All of those things put together form a unique identity that can be assigned an identifying number and then used just like a cookie. (You can check out how unique your browser is and the kind of information it is sharing over at this Electronic Frontier Foundation site.)