Google is developing a new privacy feature for its Chrome browser called IP Protection that aims to prevent covert tracking by hiding users’ IP addresses from certain websites.
The opt-in feature signals Google’s attempts to balance privacy concerns with core web functionalities.
IP Addresses Allow Tracking But Also Enable Web Services
IP addresses play a dual role on the web. They are indispensable for routing traffic, geolocation, security, and other vital functions. But IP addresses also enable persistent tracking of users across websites to compile detailed profiles.
Unlike cookies, IP addresses currently provide no direct way for users to evade tracking. So Google seeks a solution that maintains IP addresses’ beneficial uses while preventing misuse for cross-site monitoring.
IP Protection Would Proxy Traffic to Mask IPs from Trackers
The proposed IP Protection feature handles IP addresses’ dual nature by routing traffic from specific third-party domains through proxies. This would make users’ IPs invisible to those services while still permitting essential networking tasks.
As the tracking landscape evolves, Google plans to adapt IP Protection to consistently safeguard users. It will likely expand the domains that get proxied as more appear to covertly profile users.
For now, IP Protection will be an opt-in feature to give users control over privacy tradeoffs and allow Google to evaluate adoption and impact.
Phased Rollout Focused on High-Risk Tracking Domains
Google intends to introduce IP Protection gradually to accommodate regional needs and incremental learning about effects. Initial testing will concentrate on domains perceived as tracking users across sites.
In Phase 0, Google will proxy its own domains using a proprietary proxy. This will enable infrastructure checks before expanding the domain list.
Access will be limited to logged-in Chrome users with US IPs. A token system will prevent misuse. As testing advances, the architecture and safeguards will be honed.
2-Hop System Could Further Enhance Anonymity
To boost privacy, Google is considering a 2-hop proxy model for future phases. A second proxy run by an external provider would make it impossible for either proxy to see both user IPs and destinations.
Google also plans on assigning proxies geo-located IP addresses rather than users’ exact locations. This will preserve services relying on general regions like GeoIP.
Concerns About Security, Fraud Prevention Impacts
Security experts note routing traffic through Google’s proxies could impact fraud and DDoS prevention. Also, a compromised proxy server could expose proxied data.
To mitigate risks, Google may require user authentication, prevent linking web requests to accounts, and introduce rate-limiting.
Overall, IP Protection represents Google’s efforts to balance privacy and critical web functionalities related to IP addresses. As the feature evolves, Google aims to maximize user privacy protections while maintaining a seamless and secure browsing experience.