There’s No Trick, Its Just a Simple Trick: A Web-Compat and Privacy Improving Approach to Third-Party Web Storage

Jordan Jueckstock (North Carolina State University), Peter Snyder (Brave Software), Shaown Sarker (North Carolina State University), Alexandros Kapravelos (North Carolina State University), Benjamin Livshits (Brave Software) | Privacy

While much current web privacy research focuses on browser fingerprinting, the boring fact is that the majority of current third-party web tracking is conducted using traditional, persistent-state identifiers. One possible explanation for the privacy community’s focus on fingerprinting is that to date browsers have faced a lose-lose dilemma when dealing with third-party stateful identifiers: block state in third-party frames and break a significant number of webpages, or allow state in third-party frames and enable pervasive tracking. The alternative, middle-ground solutions that have been deployed all trade privacy for compatibility, rely on manually curated lists, or depend on the user to manage state and state-access themselves.

This work furthers privacy on the web by presenting a novel system for managing the lifetime of third-party storage, “page-length storage”. We compare page-length storage to existing approaches for managing third-party state and find that page-length storage has the privacy protections of the most restrictive current option (i.e., blocking third-party storage) but web-compatibility properties mostly similar to the least restrictive option (i.e., allowing all third-party storage). This work further compares page-length storage to an alternative third-party storage partitioning scheme inspired by elements of Safari’s tracking protections and finds that page-length storage provides superior privacy protections with comparable web-compatibility.

We provide a dataset of the privacy and compatibility behaviors observed when applying the compared third-party storage strategies on a crawl of the Tranco 1k and the quantitative metrics used to demonstrate that page-length storage matches or surpasses existing approaches. Finally, we provide an open-source implementation of our page-length storage approach, implemented as patches against Chromium.

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