A team of academics has developed a new web browser extension that rejects cookie consent pop-ups automatically.
Developed by researchers from Google and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the CookieEnforcer extension navigates through the labyrinth of menus that conceal the option to reject non-essential cookies on the user’s behalf.
As explained in a paper published earlier this month, the extension analyzes the rendering pattern of HTML elements to identify cookie notices, before mapping out the necessary sequence of clicks. An evaluation of its accuracy found the extension to be effective in 91% of cases.
The big cookie debate
The implementation of third-party cookies, which are used to track people across the web to inform targeted advertising efforts, has long been the subject of fierce debate.
On one side, there are companies like Google, which argue that tracking technologies prop up business models that guarantee universal access to web services and content. But on the other side are those that believe our privacy is too great a price to pay, and that there are ways to replumb the economic engine of the web.
In an effort to increase the level of transparency around data collection practices, regulations like GDPR were implemented across the world, requiring websites to request explicit consent from the user. But whether these rules resulted in a net gain from a privacy perspective is unclear.
“Cookie notices inform users about the type of cookies the website maintains, their purpose and, in many cases, the options to control them. However, in their current forms, cookie notices suffer from usability issues,” the researchers explain.
“Prior work has shown that these notices use dark patterns to manipulate users into making website-friendly choices which put users’ privacy at risk.”
Earlier this year, both Facebook and Google were slapped with multi-million-euro fines by the French data protection regulator over precisely this practice, which makes the latter’s participation in the development of CookieEnforcer deliciously ironic.
Unfortunately, the extension is not yet publicly available. The research team says it is preparing a general release, but has not yet offered a specific timeline.