Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Google rolls back Chrome privacy feature due to COVID-19

Google disables SameSite cookie support to prevent any unforseen breakage to sites during the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus: No, the internet isn't collapsing because of all your extra traffic
4:41

latest developments

Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

From cancelled conferences to disrupted supply chains, not a corner of the global economy is immune to the spread of COVID-19.

Read More

Google announced today it was rolling back a recent Chrome browser privacy feature to prevent any disruption to existing websites and their availability during the current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

"In light of the extraordinary global circumstances due to COVID-19, we are temporarily rolling back the enforcement of SameSite cookie labeling, starting today," Justin Schuh, Director of Chrome Engineering, said today.

"While most of the web ecosystem was prepared for this change, we want to ensure stability for websites providing essential services including banking, online groceries, government services and healthcare that facilitate our daily life during this time."

The feature -- SameSite cookies -- was enabled for a small number of Chrome users in February, with the release of Chrome 80. Google was planning to slowly turn it on for all users during the rest of the year.

Once enabled, the feature would prevent third-party domains from creating cookie files while the user was not on their website.

The feature's primary role would be to prevent online entities from using browser cookie files to track users as they moved from site to site across the internet.

The most impacted by this change were online advertisers and web analytics firms -- most of which migrated to other user tracking practices once Google announced SameSite cookie support in May 2019.

However, third-party cookies are also used in other contexts, for government sites, banking portals, intranets, and others.

Even if SameSite cookies was only shipped to roughly 1% of the Chrome userbase, temporarily rolling back the feature would ensure that this small number of users won't be impacted by any unforeseen breakage during a time of crisis.

Schuh said that Chrome users and website owners should see no change or disruption as the feature is rolled back and deactivated.

The Google manager said they plan to re-enable the feature in the future. The current plan is to restart the SameSite cookie rollout again sometime over the summer.