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GitHub CEO: We’re breaking all tracking cookies, and so should you

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Last month, the team at GitHub, the website for sharing software code, showed some new design plans to CEO Nat Friedman.

The group was commissioned to revise the website’s so-called cookie banners. It is these annoying digital popups that prompt visitors to accept the use of “cookies”, a ubiquitous tracking technology that allows Internet browsers to drive to keep track of Internet surfing activity.

The designers offered models. They simplified the cumbersome case law of disclosures. They made the boxes smaller. They have updated the colors to more pleasant shades. All efforts were aimed at making the banners less irritating.

Friedman praised the team’s work, but his judgment was no less harsh for it. “It may be the best cookie banner in the world,” said Friedman. “But it still sucks. Nobody wants to see it. “

“Let’s just get rid of it all together,” Friedman said.

So the team went a different way. GitHub, a business Microsoft acquired for $ 7.5 billion Two years ago, in the last few weeks, all non-essential web trackers and cookies were removed from its website – with the exception of a few, which are vital to its operation. For example, a “session” cookie authenticates a logged-in user, and others recognize visitors’ time zones and language preferences.

Well there GitHub There are no longer any external trackers or cookies on the websiteThere is no need to generate an annoying popup as soon as someone visits the website. No outside service can question what people are up to on GitHub, and that ubiquitous consent form that is ubiquitous on the internet is gone.

The action is a small victory in a bigger war. As an advertising sales duopoly by Google and Facebook comes Under fire by Antitrust law RegulatorsThe biggest tech players are drawing lines of battle over corporate use of personal data. Apple and Facebook are open feuds on the future of online profiling and behavior tracking. GitHub’s stance can be viewed as part of yet another tech giant, Microsoft – another subsidiary of which LinkedIn is at least in part an ad-based social network – that is opposed to surveillance.

Biscuit monster

Cookies can be divided into several categories depending on their purpose. However, most cookies help deliver targeted ads. This is a boon for companies like Google and Facebook.

Other types of cookies have different functions, although many of them also assist in serving ads. With some cookies, certain content can be stored on a website, e.g. B. embedded YouTube videos. Twitter Share buttons, Facebook sign-up forms. Others offer analytics that website owners can use to see how users use their websites.

Since GitHub doesn’t rely on ads to make money – it sells premium products in addition to its free developer tools – clearing cookies was an easier task than other websites. The main task was to scrap the last category of analytics trackers.

Friedman believes the compromise was worth the effort. “We have lost a bit of visibility [into how people are using GitHub]. But I think it’s questionable if that’s important, ”he said. “I don’t think you need an all-seeing eye to make a good website.”

A screenshot of Mozilla’s Firefox web browser when visiting GitHub.com showing the tracker and cookies no longer present.

Cookie banners increased in number with the adoption of the EU by the European Union General Data Protection Regulationor GDPR, a law designed to do so Improvement of privacy and data transparency on the Internet. Midas Nouwens, an assistant professor studying data protection law at Aarhus University in Denmark, said GitHub’s move was a “welcome consequence” of the new rules.

“Companies should consider whether it is really worth collecting such data when they need to implement hostile consent interfaces,” said Nouwens.

“It’s like having a lawyer pat you on the back every time you visit a new website,” Friedman said. “It’s like playing mini golf and you have to sign like a 25-page disclaimer to play.

“I just think that’s a bit sore for your soul as a human,” added Friedman.

Don’t chase Redux

John Bergmayer, legal director at Public Knowledge Project, a nonprofit Internet advocacy group, described GitHub’s move as “admirable.” He added, “The incentives all suggest that people are collecting more and more data, even if it’s not that useful because when it’s basically free to collect and there are no penalties for collecting or misusing it.”

Marshall Erwin, Chief Security Officer at Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, also praised GitHub’s action. “There are legitimate use cases for third-party cookies, but the technology and the way they are used on the web is quite harmful and has created an unhealthy web,” he said. “For a big important platform like GitHub, I think it’s important to take these steps.”

A previous attempt to make the web more private, the Do Not Follow movement, was based on voluntary participation. When few websites agreed to heed people’s anti-tracking preferences, the initiative was taken hissed out.

Recently, web browser makers like Mozilla have gotten more aggressive and updated their software to block third-party cookies and trackers by default. The not-for-profit Tor browser and Apple’s Safari browser have similar policies in place.

Google’s Chrome browser, which is widely believed to get the problem under control, targets one Exit by 2022.

Go ahead and git

While privacy advocates praise GitHub for taking action in this area, it’s relatively easy for the company to do. GitHub doesn’t rely on ads to keep the lights on. The site engineers have the coding capabilities to develop in-house tools to replace the lost analytics capabilities.

Still, the move is remarkable. GitHub is one of the first sites in a coming wave of cookie opt-out. The New York Times, the Washington Post, Voxand other publications are try to do the same. ((Capital’On the other hand, trackers are used on the website for the time being.)

“I think more sites should just do it,” Friedman said capital. “You don’t need all of these cookie banners, you don’t have to use all of these cookies, you don’t have to send all of your user data to third parties. Just focus on making a good product. That’s what people want.”

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