Google Chrome may soon change your IP address for added protection
Google is working on a free VPN-like feature that may soon be introduced in its Chrome browser. Two IP hops in the same country will add a layer of privacy security for users. However, it won't be useful for accessing services abroad.
Browsing the internet without a VPN connection means that the user’s IP address is exposed, revealing approximate physical location and other personal information.
“This information can be combined over time to create a unique, persistent user profile and track a user’s activity across the web, which represents a threat to their privacy. Moreover, unlike with third-party cookies, there is no straightforward way for users to opt out of this kind of covert tracking,” says the IP protection project’s documentation.
IP protection, like a VPN, is supposed to hide the user’s IP address and protect them from cross-site tracking. Privacy proxies would anonymize IP addresses for qualifying traffic.
“This feature will not be paid or part of a premium offering. It will be available to Chrome users as part of the core browser experience,” Mike Taylor, Engineering Manager at Chrome, writes in a GitHub repository.
According to the proposal, the assigned IP addresses will never cross a country border – they will obey local regulations and let services provide relevant and localized content. Users within a certain area will be assigned an IP address from the main city in the region.
Initially, to ensure user control over privacy decisions and to monitor lower volumes, IP Protection will be opt-in only. The initiative will be rolled out in a phased manner over time.
The intent to experiment was already announced on October 19th, with an initial list of domains that will be proxied. At first, only Google-owned proxies will be used to route requests to Google-owned domains.
In future phases, two proxy hops are being considered. Google would run the first hop, and the second one would be run by a third-party server. This would ensure that neither proxy could see the client's IP address and the destination.
At first, IP Protection will be available on Chrome for Android and Desktop and later could come to other platforms.
“IP protection will not launch as a default setting for Chrome users before 2024,” the document states. “The implementation of IP Protection may take place on a different timeline than other Privacy Sandbox efforts, such as phasing out third-party cookies.”
There are challenges
While useful for improving privacy, proxies raise some concerns as they can disrupt the normal operation of servers, which IP addresses for anti-abuse, fraud detection, or anti-DDoS attack protection. Compromised proxies may themselves be used to deploy attacks.
Therefore, some additional protections are suggested with the IP Protection feature. Users may be required to authenticate to the proxy with their account, and some limits may be introduced.
IP Protection is one of the efforts under the Google-led Privacy Sandbox initiative. This proposal has entered a public discussion and is still very much in the early stages. It’s not yet included in the current roadmap of Chrome development. Privacy Sandbox is also supposed to phase out third-party cookies and limit fingerprinting.
Changing IP addresses does not guarantee complete privacy, as many other methods are used to track users, such as cookies, tracking scripts, device IDs, server logs, and others.
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