In a recent announcement from Google, it became known that user agent strings in Chrome will be ditched in favour of client hints, a new mechanism designed to replace them.
For those who are unaware, user agent strings are communicated to the website through your browser as soon as you open it.
By examining them, one can discover the following that’s in use:
- Operating system
- Browser type
- Rendering engine
User agent strings were introduced by the Netscape browser in the 1990s and have been standardised ever since.
They are very much relevant in the World Wide Web due to webmasters having the ability to adjust the experience based on the user’s technical specifications.
For instance, since a smartphone has less screen real estate compared to a computer, the content needs to be rendered in a different way to be accommodated.
The webmasters also have the freedom to bar traffic that comes from a specific type of device if they so desire.
According to Google, the user agent strings tend to bring about different problems, most of which are privacy-related.
For instance, the advertisers may use them to fingerprint the visitors and track them without their consent.
Also, it’s possible to fake them, resulting in illegitimate website scraping on the user’s end.
Either way, client hints will be replacing them.
Unlike its predecessor, they will not reveal whether a user is running Windows 7 or Windows 10, for instance – they are much more generic.
However, the webmasters will still be able to tell whether a user is running Chrome and whether they’re on a mobile or a desktop device.
At the same time, client hints will make it next to impossible to perform illegitimate user agent sniffing, which was possible with traditional user agent strings.
In addition, they are designed to be transparent enough to be of some use to advertisers when grouping their prospects.