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Designed as a defense against fingerprinting, the Google Privacy Budget, still an early-stage proposal, is a browser-based technique intended to place limits on “fingerprinting surfaces,” which are distinctive characteristics associated with someone’s device and digital presence that can be pieced together to detect or assign their identity. In an effort to prevent fingerprinting and minimize the traces consumers leave online of their activities, preferences, and personal information, the Privacy Budget restricts the amount of those distinctive characteristics that a technology can access or detect by assigning each a “budget” and blocking the transfer of information after a certain point.
Only a relatively small portion of the public say they understand what is being done with the information collected about them and their identities, and even fewer feel confident in their ability to competently protect their digital privacy. Available sometime in 2023 as a part of Google’s Privacy Sandbox, whose mission is to “Create a thriving web ecosystem that is respectful of users and private by default,” the Privacy Budget feature will take aim at cross-site tracking techniques by creating a system of quantifying the identifying information, or entropy, exposed by different surfaces across the browser platform and used web experience. The value of each surface touchpoint will be quantified and expressed in bits, and when the Privacy Budget is at work, it will limit access to this surface-level information based on a weighted system of bits being measured.
By overcoming the pervasive norm of cross-site tracking across the web and on top of which much of the web’s ability to deliver and monetize content has been built, Google’s Privacy Budget will deliver an ideal end state that, from a user’s perspective, will be no different than how the web of today works, except that users will be able to feel increasingly confident that their browser is working on their behalf to protect their privacy.
Google’s efforts in this area of online privacy and personal data protection are part of a larger trend witnessed by PSFK researchers in how companies and platforms are stepping in to run interference and obstruct third-party fingerprint tracking as well as educate consumers about the ways their tracked data is being used to build a complete and targetable portrait of their online identity, often without their consent.
This article originally appeared in PSFK’s research paper, Cultivating Trust Within The Digital Economy