Google Chrome will soon offer to hide your IP address for added privacy and security

Woman at laptop hiding eyes

Google is preparing to launch a new Chrome feature which will give users the ability to hide their IP address. Previously known as Gnatcatcher, the feature is now called IP Protection and makes use of proxies to help prevent online tracking.

IP Protection is described as "a privacy proxy that anonymizes IP addresses for qualifying traffic". One of its primary aims is to limit the possibility for fingerprinting as a means of tracking users online, which is something that has become increasingly common as steps are taken to block, and even kill off, third-party cookies.

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Google recognizes that there are legitimate scenarios in which IP addresses need to be known, hence the anonymization "for qualifying traffic". One of the purposes of the upcoming testing period for IP Protection is to determine whether there are unwanted side effects that need to be mitigated.

Rather than offering protection and anonymization to everyone automatically, IP Protection will start life as an opt-in feature. Google says that this will better enable it to monitor behaviors at lower volumes. The company will, as is so often the case with new features undergoing testing, used a phased approach to the rollout of IP Protection,

Explaining the plans for the testing, Brianna Goldstein from the Chromium team says:

We are using a list based approach and only domains on the list in a third-party context will be impacted. We are conscious that these proposals may cause undesired disruptions for legitimate use cases and so we are just focused on the scripts and domains that are considered to be tracking users. 

She goes on to add:

We plan to test and roll out the feature in multiple phases. To start, Phase 0 will use a single Google-owned proxy and will only proxy requests to domains owned by Google. This first phase will allow us to test our infrastructure while preventing impact to other companies and gives us more time to refine the list of domains that will be proxied. For simplicity, only clients with US-based IP addresses will be granted access to the proxies for phase 0.

A small percentage of clients will be automatically enrolled in this initial test, though the architecture and design will evolve between this test and future launches. To access the proxy, a user must be logged in to Chrome. To prevent abuse, a Google-run authentication server will grant access tokens to the Google run proxy based on a per-user quota.

There will be various additional safeguards to prevent abuse of the proxy, including the use of blinded signatures. Google acknowledges the need to IP-based geolocation to enables compliance with local laws and regulation, and to help sites deliver relevant content to users. With this in mind, the Privacy Proxy will assign IP addresses that represent users coarse location, including country.

More information about IP Protection is available on the GitHub repository for the tool.

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