Cookies to auto-expire in two years: Google

After listening to feedback from users and privacy advocates, Google has concluded that it would be a good thing for privacy to significantly shorten the lifetime of their cookies — as long as they could find a way to do so without artificially forcing users to re-enter their basic preferences at arbitrary points in time. To this effect, they have announced a new cookie policy.

In the coming months, Google will start issuing users cookies that will be set to auto-expire after two years, while auto-renewing the cookies of active users during this time period. In other words, users who do not return to Google will have their cookies auto-expire after two years. Regular Google users will have their cookies auto-renew, so that their preferences are not lost. And, as always, all users will still be able to control their cookies at any time via their browsers.

Together, these steps — logs anonymization and cookie lifetime reduction — are part of the ongoing plan to continue innovating in the area of privacy to protect our users.

On the server side, Google had recently announced that they will anonymize search server logs — including IP addresses and cookie ID numbers — after 18 months. Now, the same question is being asked about cookie lifetime: when should a cookie expire on the user’s computer?

Background: A cookie is a very small file which gets stored on your computer All search engines and most websites use cookies. Why? Cookies remind the site you visit of your preferences from the last time you visited. For example, Google uses so-called “PREF cookie” to remember users’ basic preferences, such as the fact that a user wants search results in English, no more than 10 results on a given page, or a ‘SafeSearch’ setting to filter out explicit sexual content. When the cookies were originally designed, Google set the expiration date far into the future — in 2038, to be exact — because the primary purpose of the cookie was to preserve preferences, not to let them be forgotten. There was a way of changing this for the user, but it involved going to the browsers to change cookie management settings, e.g. to delete all cookies, delete specific cookies, or accept certain types of cookies (like first-party cookies) but reject others (like third-party cookies). The auto-expiry method would make the process easier, seamless and not require any user-intervention.

Tags: Google, privacy, cookies, expire

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