In a recent reversal, Google extended the deadline for sunsetting third-party cookies on its Chrome browser until at least 2023. The change is happening as Google seeks to refine its Privacy Sandbox initiative. When announcing the decision to extend the phase out of Chrome’s third-party cookies, Google said “it's become clear that more time is needed across the [Privacy Sandbox] ecosystem to get this right.”
What Is Google’s Privacy Sandbox?
Google’s Privacy Sandbox, introduced in 2019, is part of Google’s solution to phasing out third-party cookies on Chrome, offering an alternative that aims to “prevent tracking as [users] browse the web,” “enable publishers to build sustainable sites that respect [user] privacy” and “preserve the vitality of the open web.” Google invited “web community members… to participate in the development and testing of the proposed new technologies” on the Privacy Sandbox.
The Privacy Sandbox is designed to use five different application programming interfaces (API) that essentially offer the same benefits as third-party tracking, but without the tracking. According to Google, there has been “considerable progress” with the Privacy Sandbox initiative, but not enough to meet the original date of January 2022 for phasing out third-party cookies on Chrome. Some advertisers have been wary of the Privacy Sandbox as a one-size-fits-all solution to phasing out third-party cookies, with particular worries about Google maintaining control over data and targeting opportunities.
Why Is Google Pushing The Sunset Date For Third-Party Cookies In Chrome?
According to Google, the extension of the third-party cookie phase out is an opportunity to work with stakeholders on the best way forward given all the variables and impacted parties. In a lengthy announcement, Google explained that the new, extended timeline “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.”
In addition to continued refinement of the Privacy Sandbox, according to Kate Kaye of Digiday, Google’s “decision to extend the cookie’s deprecation seems to be in direct response to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)” in the UK. The CMA asserted that Google cannot “eliminate user-tracking technology that is important to advertisers from its Chrome browser without sign off” from the British regulator.
Google explains, “Subject to our engagement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and in line with the commitments we have offered, Chrome could then phase out third-party cookies over a three month period, starting in mid-2023 and ending in late 2023.”
What’s Next For Google And The Phase Out Of Third-Party Cookies On Chrome?
Google said it has over 30 proposals from Chrome and the web community in the works as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative. The aim of the Privacy Sandbox proposals is to “create more private approaches to key [tracking] areas, including ad measurement, delivering relevant ads and content, and fraud detection” Four of the Google Privacy Sandbox proposals are already in origin trials, with each proposal subject to “rigorous, multi-phased public development process, including extensive discussion and testing periods.” According to Google, until the Privacy Sandbox initiative is fully tested and deployed via APIs in Chrome, third-party cookies will remain in use. If all goes according to plan, the third-party cookie phaseout for Chrome will begin in 2022, taking nine months to complete. But, insiders speculate that the timeline for the cookie sunset is largely dependent on the success of the Privacy Sandbox and subject to meeting the CMA requirements.
How Does Extending The Deadline For Sunsetting Third-Party Cookies In Chrome Benefit Advertisers?
There are mixed reviews about the extension of the third-party cookie phaseout, with some advertisers eager for Google to just pull the plug on third-party cookies already so they can adjust to the new normal. However, many advertisers fear they are ill-prepared for the end of cookies, and Kaye speculates the delay from Google “could signal the company plans to be more transparent in regard to its cookie-killing plans.” Either way, the reality is that, for now, nothing has changed, but it probably will in the future. Advertisers should continue to prepare for the end of third-party cookies by prioritizing first-party data and by testing contextual targeting and other digital advertising strategies that reach consumers up and down the funnel.
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