A clever new browser extension eliminates one of the worst problems with the web

A team of academics has developed a new Web browser extension that automatically dismisses cookie consent pop-ups.

Developed by researchers at Google and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the CookieEnforcer extension navigates the maze of menus that hide the ability to reject non-essential cookies on behalf of the user.

As explained in a document released earlier this month, the extension analyzes the rendering model of HTML elements to identify cookie notices, before mapping the necessary click sequence. An evaluation of its accuracy revealed that the extension was effective in 91% of cases.

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 the one hand, there are companies like Google, who argue that tracking technologies support business models that ensure universal access to web services and content. But on the other side, there are those who believe that our privacy is too high a price to pay, and that there are ways to slow down the economic engine of the web.

In order to increase the level of transparency around data collection practices, regulations such as the GDPR have been implemented around the world, requiring websites to seek explicit user consent. But it’s unclear whether these rules resulted in a net gain from a privacy perspective.

“Cookie notices inform users about the type of cookies the website keeps, 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.

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“Previous work has shown that these reviews use dark patterns to manipulate users into making choices that are appropriate for websites that put user privacy at risk.”

Earlier this year, Facebook and Google were fined several million euros by the French data protection regulator on precisely this practice, which makes deliciously ironic the latter’s participation in the development of CookieEnforcer.

Instead of new regulations that protect against manipulative behavior like this, or outright prohibit the use of cookies, CookieEnforcer eliminates the friction associated with locating the option to reject third-party cookies.

Unfortunately, the extension is not yet publicly available. The research team says it is working on a general release, but has not yet offered a specific timeline.

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