Google Prepares to Launch New Privacy Tools to Limit Cookies

Google is set to launch new tools to limit the use of tracking cookies, a move that could strengthen the search giant’s advertising dominance and deal a blow to other digital-marketing companies, according to people familiar with the matter.

After years of internal debate, Google could as soon as this week roll out a dashboard-like function in its Chrome browser that will give internet users more information about what cookies are tracking them and offer options to fend them off, the people said.

This is a more incremental approach than less-popular browsers, such as Apple Inc.’s Safari and Mozilla Corp.’s Firefox, which introduced updates to restrict by default the majority of tracking cookies in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

Google’s move, which could be announced at its developer conference in Mountain View, Calif., starting Tuesday, is expected to be touted as part of the company’s commitment to privacy—a complicated sell, given the torrent of data it continues to store on users—and press its sizable advantage over online-advertising rivals.

The unit of Alphabet Inc. GOOGL +0.01% is the world’s largest digital ad seller. The coming changes aren’t expected to significantly curtail Google’s ability to collect data.

.. Yet cookies also boost competition in the advertising landscape by allowing hundreds of digital firms—large and small—to collect their own user data and sell higher-priced ads based on it. Any restriction on them is a boon to the biggest tech companies, including Google, which can target ads based on the slew of other information it collects on users through its many products.

Google, like its browser rivals, isn’t planning to end the use of cookies that websites use to make their own users’ experience smoother, such as those that store login information so users don’t have to enter it every time. Instead, it is mostly targeting cookies installed by profit-seeking third parties, separate from the owner of the website a user is actively visiting.

If the new Google tools prompt users to broadly reject tracking cookies, some people in the industry think it could mean the long-predicted demise of a technology that is both widely criticized and used.

“It really strikes at the Achilles’ heel of the ad tech ecosystem,” said Ratko Vidakovic, a Toronto-based consultant in the digital ad industry.

.. The changes could be damaging to Google competitors that use cookies or resell data collected via cookies to companies hoping to better target ads. Shares in one such company, Paris-based Criteo SA, which helps sites tag cookies on their visitors, are down 27% since Adweek reported in late March that Google was considering new restrictions.

Criteo’s chief executive during its recent quarterly earnings call flagged risks due to coming restrictions on cookies, and said the company was working to become less reliant on cookies.