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Google has second thoughts about cutting cookies, so serves up CHIPs • The Register

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Last week, third-party cookies received a stay of execution from Google that will allow them to survive until late 2023 – almost two years beyond their previously declared decommission date. But the search-ads-and-apps biz is already planning a resurrection of sorts because third-party cookies are just too useful.

The Chocolate Factory envisions a lesser form of third-party cookie, one that in theory won’t be used for tracking but will be able to support other more acceptable use cases. Google software engineer Dylan Cutler and engineering manager Kaustubha Govind call their confection “partitioned cookies” in a Web Platform Incubator Community Group proposal called “CHIPs.”

Cookies are files that web applications can set in web browsers to store data. They have legitimate uses, like storing data related to the state of the application (e.g. whether you’re logged in), and they can also be used for tracking people across websites.

Third-party cookies – set by scripts that interact with third-party servers – track people by storing a value on one website and then reading that value on another website that implements a similar third-party script. The third-party service in this case then knows all the websites running their script that were visited by the tracked individual.

That’s the sort of privacy-invading behavior that led browser makers like Apple, Brave, Mozilla, and others to block third-party cookies by default. But doing so has created problems by interfering with applications that rely on third-party cookies to deliver services across domain contexts.

The browser security model is based on the distinction between first-party and third-party contexts. When an individual visits a specific web domain, that domain operates in a first party context; services available at other domains are considered third-party and face various limitations on what they can do.

Google’s CHIPs proposal – Cookies Having Independent Partitioned State – calls for cookies that can be set by third-party service but only read within the context of the first-party site where they were initially set, as opposed to other sites also running the setter’s third-party script.

For example, Cutler and Govind describe a scenario where the site retail.com wants to work with a third-party service support.chat.com to embed a support chat box on its site.

“Without the ability to set a cross-site cookie, support.chat.com could instead rely on retail.com passing along their first-party state (or some derived value of it),” the Googlers explain in their proposal. “However, if the users have not yet created an account and the support widget is helping them sign up, then retail.com would have no notion of identity to forward to support.chat.com.”

There are other plausible uses too, like third-party content delivery networks that use cookies to serve access-controlled content, front-end frameworks that rely on remote hosting and remote procedure calls to interact with services, and embedded code designed to support software-as-a-service apps.

Firefox and Safari have each taken steps toward implementing their own versions of partitioned cookies, so Google’s approach has conceptual support from other browser makers even if the implementations currently differ.

Hold on a minute

But privacy advocates have taken issue with Google’s approach – declaring intent to prototype the technology without much consultation.

“The tech has been talked about for awhile, it works when combined with other techniques to slightly reduce the harm from third-party cookies, but it’s not the same as deprecating third-party cookies,” said Zach Edwards, co-founder of web analytics biz Victory Medium, in a message to The Register.

“Google is proposing this shift without even acknowledging how it fits into larger plans, and thus making people guess and try to work out the calendar for upcoming Chrome additions and deprecations,” he said. “It’s an outrageously impossible task if the company making those decisions doesn’t keep a running list of changes that impact global businesses, and also flippantly suggests new additions on non-Google websites and via a regularly rotating group of largely unknown Google developers, who when challenged about proposals often fall back on, ‘All opinions are my own.'”

Such concern is widespread among those involved in ad tech and marketing because Google is in the midst of changing the rules by which online advertisers operate. The effort to phase out the third-party cookie is part of the company’s ongoing Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to implement multiple technical specifications that change how online advertising works in the browser. And no one – not Google, its allies, its competitors, regulators, or internet users – is certain how these works-in-progress will eventually work and interoperate.

In January, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) began poking around in Google’s Privacy Sandbox to see whether the contemplated changes would disadvantage competitors. In response, Google made a set of commitments to be more forthcoming about its technologies and the viability of competing alternatives.

“The CMA seemingly told Google that they need to change their process and communicate more clearly how data supply changes are being made in Chrome and in Google’s advertising systems,” said Edwards.

“But if this new proposal is how Google perceives the CMA-mandate, then the folks in the UK should schedule a bit more tea time because they are spinning their wheels during office hours on demands that are being ignored.”

Even seemingly minor proposals like CHIPs can be complicated because they don’t exist in isolation. They have to be considered in the context of all the other technologies they may touch in deployment.

For example, Google has a proposal called First-Party Sets that would make different domains (e.g. apple.com and icloud.com) owned by the same company function as a single first-party domain for the purpose of cookies. Privacy researcher Lukasz Olejnik has expressed concern about how CHIPs might expand the tracking possibilities when used in conjunction with First-Party Sets.

What’s more, the proposal itself acknowledges that partitioned cookies cannot currently be defended against Chrome extensions.

“Extensions’ background contexts can query and store cookies across partitions, meaning they could store a cross-site identifier across partitions,” explain Cutler and Govind. “Unfortunately, this type of attack is unavoidable due to the nature of extensions.”

“Even if we block partitioned cookies (or even all cookies) from extensions’ background contexts, an extension could still use content scripts to write cross-site identifiers to the DOM which the site’s own script could copy to the site’s partitioned cookie jar.”

And there are other potential problems that need to be ironed out, like the risk of making sites more prone to cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks and increasing the risk of denial-of-service attacks through cookie proliferation that exceeds Chrome’s 180-cookie-per-domain limit.

None of these issues are insurmountable. But perhaps Google’s decision to treat the technical foundations of web advertising – a business upon which it and so many companies depend – as a set of experiments needs to be reconsidered in light of the company’s market power. Moving fast and breaking things may work well for a nimble startup but when giants do so there’s collateral damage. ®



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Pushing Buttons: Happy 50th birthday to Atari, whose simple games gave us so much | Games

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Welcome to Pushing Buttons, the Guardian’s gaming newsletter. If you’d like to receive it in your inbox every week, just pop your email in below – and check your inbox (and spam) for the confirmation email.

Sign up for Pushing Buttons, our weekly guide to what’s going on in video games.

This week marks a truly important video game anniversary: it is 50 years since Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney incorporated Atari Inc, the company that laid the foundations for the video games industry. There have been many appraisals of the company and its landmark achievements in the games press over the past few days – from the arrival of a Pong machine in Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California, in 1972, through classic titles such as Breakout, Asteroids and Missile Commands, to the iconic home consoles. So many moments of creative genius, so many genres, concepts and conventions bursting into existence at the hands of scruffy engineers and designers such as Ed Logg, Larry Kaplan and Dona Bailey.

But one element that often gets overlooked in these nostalgic reveries is the way in which Atari taught the first generation of electronic gamers how to think symbolically. With two rectangles and a square, Pong invited us to visualise tennis, while Night Driver’s series of moving rectangles convinced us we were driving a car. Some will point to the 1972 console the Magnavox Odyssey as the originator of these concepts, but it was Atari putting them in arcade machines – and later consoles –all over the world.

It was also Atari that generated a whole universe around its simple games. Through beautiful cabinet designs, expert use of iconography and graphic design, and the gorgeous illustrations on its Atari VCS cartridges, the company sought to simulate the imagination of players before they even held the controller. The boxes for titles such as Berzerk and Defender, all highly abstract and visually simple games, were alive with drama; they showed human characters, explosions and colours that were impossible to achieve on screen at the time, quietly providing players with the imaginative tools they needed to become immersed. Would we have cared so much about the fate of the lifeless rock at the base of the screen in Missile Command if it hadn’t been for George Opperman’s package art? The tense commander at his desk, the explosions, the missiles seemingly scorching out of the box itself …

It was George Opperman who also designed Atari’s now legendary logo, consisting of three simple lines, the two exterior shafts curving inwards toward the peak. Over the years Opperman claimed many influences for his design – Mount Fuji, Japanese alphabet symbols, Pong itself – personally, I’ve always viewed it as a spaceship. But it’s how the image seems to sum up the excitement and futuristic promise of the company that really matters. When we see the logo flash briefly on the screen in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, it’s a quick visual signifier that this is a highly technological landscape. It fits in perfectly with a world of androids and flying cars.

Nolan Bushnell saw how video games could naturally bleed from the screen into real space, meat space. During the 1970s, the industry started in pubs and taverns, then moved into arcades and eventually the home, and they had effects on all of them: they changed behaviours and got written into our lives in subtle ways. His introduction of the Chuck E Cheese pizza restaurant chain, which combined family eating with a video game arcade, brilliantly monetised the ways that games, although graphically simple, had worked their way from the TV screen to dinner table conversation. We laugh about how the original VCS console had wood panelling, but this was a deliberate attempt to ape the aesthetics of the 1970s living room, with its wooden furniture, TV and stereo cabinets. Atari understood that assimilation would be a vital element of success.

Even now, in this age of near photorealism, video games rely on the kind of abstractions that Atari perfected. The heart symbols to denote the number of lives we have left; the heavy use of icons and exterior narratives; the endless references to familiar cinema tropes. We saw Atari being played on TV shows and films, we saw Atari in comics. While its games were still being drawn with two sprites each a single byte in size, the iconography of Atari was out there in the world. It’s something Nintendo would learn from, and later Sony, with its cultural melting pot of a console: the PlayStation. Atari was a myth maker too: from the Easter egg hidden in Adventure to the buried copies of E.T. in the California desert, the company itself became a source of digital folklore that took on meanings beyond anything portrayed on your TV.

50 years ago, Atari began to show us that games exist in a strange liminal space between the screen and the brain, and they are constantly able to escape. The dots on the screen are only ever part of the picture, and the picture never stops moving.

What to play

This week we recommend the knockout Capcom Fighting Collection.
This week we recommend the knockout Capcom Fighting Collection. Photograph: Capcom

While we’re in a nostalgic mood, I’m really enjoying Capcom Fighting Collection. You’d probably expect a dozen famous titles from the Street Fighter series, but that’s already been covered by Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. Instead, we get five games from the spooky, goth-infused Darkstalkers series, the mid-1990s fantasy-themed Red Earth and a bunch of offbeat Street Fighter dalliances including the ridiculously compelling Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, which brilliantly combined fighting game dynamics with … Tetris. The games are filled with blistering attacks and truly imaginative character designs, all lovingly updated for the modern era.

Available on: PC, PS4, Switch, Xbox One
Approximate playtime: As long as you want

What to read

  • Eurogamer is running a whole series of features for Pride, including this piece talking to Captain Fluke about being the first openly trans esports commentator and this one on the joy of gay fan faction and mods. Elsewhere, IGN has listed its favourite ever LGBT+ characters in video games.

  • Verge has a really interesting piece on a group of creatives making branded worlds for big companies in Fortnite. Everyone talks about Facebook when referencing the coming era of the metaverse, but I’m pretty sure Fortnite is going to be just as important as an explorable shared space for interconnected worlds – and the advertising potential therein.

  • We also found out this week that Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creative genius behind Dark Souls and Elden Ring, is almost finished on his next project. This is good news for me as, after 225 hours, I’m nearing the end of Elden Ring and would be very happy to slide straight into his next game if possible.

  • If I’ve got you interested in Atari’s design and illustration philosophy, The Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino is a gorgeous book. For a more technical analysis of the company, try Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System by Nick Montfort and Ian Bogost.

What to click

‘A little bit addictive and the right amount hard’: new video game is based on poems of Emily Dickinson

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest review – lovable gamers on mission to break record

Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes review – wild battles liven up a familiar anime franchise

Melbourne startup raises $9m for mental wellness game based on tending houseplants

Question block

This week’s question comes from Tim and his daughter Caitlin, and is answered by Keza:

“We got really into Hades over lockdown, loving the ‘it’s the same each time but really different too’ concept as well as the lore and the artwork. Can you recommend a similar game that we could play together?”

Hades is what’s known as a roguelike – one of those games where you have to start again from the beginning each time, but each playthrough throws different challenges at you – and, happily for you both, this genre has been having a moment over the past few years. Hades is a contender for the very best game in this genre, so it’s hard to rival, but here are some others to try.

Dead Cells is a kind of cyberpunk-fantasy action game where you gradually explore a shapeshifting castle; Spelunky 2 has you delving down below the Earth through caves full of amusing hazards, and has a great sense of humour (you can also play co-op); Into the Breach is something a little different, a strategy game where you have to defend the world from hostile invaders, travelling back in time after each failed attempt. And for a story and art style as good as that of Hades with a different gameplay feel, try developer Supergiant’s previous games Pyre, Transistor and Bastion, if you haven’t already.

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China says it has photographed all of Mars from orbit • The Register

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China is claiming that as of Wednesday, its Tianwen-1 Mars orbiter has officially photographed the entire Red Planet. And it’s shown off new photos of the southern polar cap and a volcano to prove it.

“It has acquired the medium-resolution image data covering the whole globe of Mars, with all of its scientific payloads realizing a global survey,” state-sponsored media quoted the China National Space Administration (CNSA) announcing.

Among the images are one of Mount Askra with its crater, shots of the South Pole whose ice sheet is believed to consist of solid carbon dioxide and ice, the seven-kilometer deep Valles Marineris canyon, and the geomorphological characteristics of the rim of the Mund crater.

Mount Askela

Mount Askela. Click to enlarge

Mars South Pole

Mars South Pole. Click to enlarge

Valles Marineris

Valles Marineris. Click to enlarge

Geomorphology of the rim of the Mund Crater

Mund crater. Click to enlarge

Tianwen-1 had been in orbit around Mars for 706 days. The orbiter circled Mars 1,344 times, as of an announcement from CNSA. The space org said Tianwen-1 has completed its scheduled missions.

In conjunction with its rover Zhurong, Tianwen-1 amassed 1,040 gigabytes of raw scientific data through 13 onboard scientific payloads.

The mission has allowed CNSA to observe solar occultation and solar wind together with international observatories – including those in Russia, Germany, Italy, Australia and South Africa – to improve the accuracy of space weather forecasts. Good news for Matt Damon.

CNSA said it will share more scientific data with the international community in due course.

In December, Zhurong and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft performed an in-orbit relay communication test to demonstrate it was possible to relay data from Zhurong back to Earth via Mars Express. The demonstration was successful, if a bit complicated – Mars Express had to “listen” for Zhurong since the rover was unable to communicate directly because the frequencies used don’t match.

Even though the mission is officially over, the orbiter and rover are still in working order. The orbiter will stay in orbit and continue its remote sensing and data relay activities while Zhurong will hibernate until weather conditions improve – likely in December. ®

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Collisons join A-list backers of Entrepreneur First’s $158m Series C

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Founded in 2011, Entrepreneur First’s portfolio has grown to more than 500 companies, which together are worth more than $10bn.

London-based scale-up investor Entrepreneur First has raised $158m in a Series C funding round, with backing from some of the world’s biggest tech founders.

The funding round included participation from Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison. They were joined by Wise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus (who also launched a new VC fund this week), LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield, Nested co-founder and CEO Matt Robinson, and many others.

There was also investment from longstanding institutional backers such as Transpose Platform, Vitruvian Partners, Encore Capital and Isomer Capital.

“It feels right that this round of funding comes from the most successful technology founders of today,” Entrepreneur First CEO Matt Clifford said. “Their support will build their counterparts of tomorrow.”

Founded in 2011, Entrepreneur First describes itself as “the best place in the world to meet your co-founder”. It says the best companies come from co-founding partnerships, but that finding the right person can be hugely challenging.

Entrepreneur First invests in early-stage founder talent. It works to bring people together from all walks of life to help meet potential co-founders, while giving them access to advisers in a three-month programme.

The company currently has 120 employees with offices in London, Toronto, Paris, Berlin, Bangalore and Singapore.

Its portfolio now includes more than 500 companies, which together exceed $10bn in value. These companies include computer vision unicorn Tractable, employment platform Omnipresent and advertising infrastructure platform Permutive.

“We built a way for the world’s most talented people, from all walks of life, to come together to find co-founders and build from scratch,” Clifford said. “Now, that fix has introduced co-founders who wouldn’t have otherwise met, to build companies that wouldn’t have been built.”

Entrepreneur First aims to see the value of companies built from its platform cross $100bn and beyond in the years to come.

“What we do may no longer seem crazy, as it did 10 years ago,” Clifford added. “But we’re just as committed to keep innovating to serve entrepreneurs better – and be the best place in the world to find a co-founder.”

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