In a surprise announcement, Google says it won’t end support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser next year after all.
But it says this is just a temporary stay of execution. The phaseout will now happen in mid to late 2023, giving the company and the larger online community more time to find a replacement for third-party tracking.
Google is trying to balance two concerns: giving users more privacy protections without destroying online business, which often relies on the ability to target digital ads to specific users. Vinay Goel, Chrome’s privacy engineering director, wrote that:
In order to do this, we need to move at a responsible pace. This will allow sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services.
This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content. And by providing privacy-preserving technology, we as an industry can help ensure that cookies are not replaced with alternative forms of individual tracking, and discourage the rise of covert approaches like fingerprinting.
With fingerprinting, websites can still collect all the details about your browser’s configuration — language, screen resolution, installed fonts, plugins, timezone and more — and use that to build a trackable profile of you as an individual.
FLoC and Google’s Search for a Cookie Replacement
With its Privacy Sandbox project, Google has been working on potential replacements for third-party cookies, but they haven’t gained widespread acceptance yet.
Case in point: Google has been testing a technology called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC for short.
Instead of tracking you as an individual, Chrome would analyze your browsing history to put you in an advertising “cohort” of several thousand users with similar interests.
Because ads are being served to these larger groups, it makes it harder to track a specific person. And you’re assigned to a cohort through an in-browser process — your history isn’t shared outside your browser.
Google claims that FLoC delivers at least 95 percent of the conversions per dollar that you’d normally get with cookies.
So far, though, no other browsers say they’ll support this standard.
Mozilla, the team behind the Firefox browser, argues that FLoC still has some big privacy concerns around fingerprinting, at least as it’s currently structured. The Electronic Frontier Foundation published its own critique here.
There’s also concern that any new standard could give Google even more control over the online advertising market, something that regulators are keeping an eye on.
Google says that it’s wrapping up its first trials of FLoC and will be incorporating feedback it received.
The company currently plans to unveil its third-party cookie replacement in late 2022 and give publishers and advertisers nine months to migrate to this new technology. Then, sometime in mid-2023, Google will begin a three month phaseout of third-party cookies.
There are caveats, of course. Google says all this is subject to its engagement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority, which is investigating the Privacy Sandbox.
If the deadline has been pushed back once, it probably could be again.
What Should Marketers Be Doing About Third-Party Cookies?
Like you, we’ll be keeping an eye on the larger debate and developments around third-party cookies.
We’re also recommending that marketers put a greater emphasis on first-party data — data that a user has chosen to share with you — as part of your measurement and optimization strategy.
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