Not so fast, Google. The company has announced that its campaign to kill cookies on the Chrome browser is slowing down. This is an increasingly complicated story with a simple conclusion: no matter what Google does or does not do, ad personalization is alive and well.
What Google Announced about Blocking Third-Party Cookies
In a blog post, Google said that its plan to block web tracking on Chrome – originally planned to happen in 2022 – will be delayed until later in 2023. The company also indicated that its timeline is subject to its engagement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). In other words, Google will need the cooperation of legislators who are growing very concerned about Google’s growing power. This is an important development. Previously, Google was rolling along unchecked with its anti-cookie measures despite an outcry from advertisers and ad tech firms — who are concerned that Google is amassing too much power and restricting their ability to deliver personalized ads by tracking users across the web.
A Brief Timeline of Google’s War against Third-Party Cookies
Google’s announcement is best understood in context of a series of moves that the company has made since January 2020. Let’s break it down for you:
January 14, 2020: The Bombshell
Google said it will phase out support for third-party cookies on Chrome, which is the most popular browser in the world. Advertisers rely on third-party cookies to track user behavior across the web in order to serve up personalized ads. Google said it wanted to make the web more private. Google said it would work with advertisers to create alternatives to third-party cookies through its Privacy Sandbox project.
The news created a wave of protest from advertisers and ad tech firms. They accused Google of stacking the deck against them by denying them the ability to use third-party cookies to personalized ads. Meanwhile, Google’s own powerful ad platforms, such as YouTube and Google Search, would be exempted from Google’s phasing out of cookies. That’s because those platforms use first-party data, or data collected from user behavior on those sites. They don’t rely on third-party cookies. Advertisers complained that Google was creating an unfair competitive advantage.
January 8, 2021: A Regulator Steps In
The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced it was investigating Google’s Privacy Sandbox because the CMA was getting concerned that Google was potentially violating anti-trust laws. This was an important development leading up to Google’s June 24 announcement.
January 25, 2021: Will FLoC Float?
Google announced it was developed an open-source program that would ease the pain of businesses eventually losing access to third-party cookies. This open-source program is known as FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). FLoC will make it possible for businesses to group people based on their common browsing behavior instead of using third-party cookies.
March 3, 2021: Google Doubles Down
Google doubled down on its campaign against cookies. Google said that once third-party cookies are phased out of Chrome browsers, Google will not build alternative identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will Google use them in its products. Examples of those alternative identifiers include Unified ID and LiveRamp IdentityLink. Instead, Google pushed advertisers to adopt FLoCs developed out Google’s own Privacy Sandbox initiative (as noted above).
Notably, Google also said, “We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers. And we’ll deepen our support for solutions that build on these direct relationships between consumers and the brands and publishers they engage with.”
March 11, 2021: Google Keeps Pushing First-Party Data
Google announced some product developments intended to make it easier for publishers to use their first-party data programmatically for ad buys. The announcement was seen as another sign of Google’s intention to bring about the demise of third-party cookies and push businesses toward using first-party data to personalize content.
June 11, 2021: Google Feels the Heat
Feeling the heat from the CMA investigation, Google made some public commitments to protect free competition, such as “no data advantage for Google advertising products” and that “We will play by the same rules as everybody else because we believe in competition on the merits. Our commitments make clear that, as the Privacy Sandbox proposals are developed and implemented, that work will not give preferential treatment or advantage to Google’s advertising products or to Google’s own sites.” Google also pledged to cooperate with the CMA.
June 24, 2021: The Cookies Are Still Baking
As a byproduct of pledging to cooperate with the CMA, Google agreed to slow down its phasing out of third-party cookies. The CMA wants Google to proceed more cautiously and thoughtfully with the CMA’s oversight, especially amid the ongoing outcry from advertisers, ad tech firms, and competitors.
The New Timeline
Google shared a revised timeline. Here’s exactly how Google describes it:
“After this public development process, and subject to our engagement with the CMA, our plan for Chrome is to phase out support for third party cookies in two stages:
- Stage 1 (Starting late-2022):Once testing is complete and APIs are launched in Chrome, we will announce the start of stage 1. During stage 1, publishers and the advertising industry will have time to migrate their services. We expect this stage to last for nine months, and we will monitor adoption and feedback carefully before moving to stage 2.
- Stage 2 (Starting mid-2023):Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a three month period finishing in late 2023.
Soon we will provide a more detailed schedule on privacysandbox.com, where it will be updated regularly to provide greater clarity and ensure that developers and publishers can plan their testing and migration schedules.”
What Does All This Mean?
- The demise of third-party cookies is still happening – just not as quickly as Google originally planned.
- Google now has oversight. The CMA could pull its support or impose more restrictions if it feels Google is not playing fair. And who knows what would happen to Google’s Privacy Sandbox if that were to happen?
- Personalization is alive and well. As we noted on our blog, even if Google succeeds ultimately, businesses have access to alternatives to third-party cookies such as Unified ID 2.0 — is a next generation identity solution built on an open-source digital framework.
- First-party data is more important than ever. That’s because Google isn’t the only Big Tech firm clamping down on web tracking. So is Apple with its Application Tracking Transparency privacy control, which requires apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies for advertising, or sharing their data with data brokers.
What Businesses Should Do
- Heed Google’s advice and monitor the detailed schedule for its next moves on privacysandbox.com
- Work with your advertising agency to understand what’s happening and how you may be affected. That’s exactly what our clients are doing with True Interactive. That’s what we’re here for.
- Don’t abandon ship with ads that rely on web tracking. As you can see with Google’s June 24 announcement, things may not proceed the way Google plans.
- Do invest in ways to leverage your own (first-party) customer data to create personalized ads. We can help you do that.
- Consider ad platforms such as Amazon Advertising and Walmart Connect, which give businesses entrée to a vast base of customers who search and shop on Amazon and Walmart. True Interactive offers services on both platforms in addition to our longstanding work on Google, Bing, and other platforms.
Contact True Interactive
For Further Reading
“Apple Announces New Privacy Features,” Mark Smith.
“Why the Google Ad Juggernaut is Back,” Tim Colucci.
“Why Amazon and Facebook Are Catching up to Google,” Kurt Anagnostopoulos.
“Google Unlocks First-Party Data for Publishers,” Mark Smith.
“Google Rejects Alternatives to Cookie Tracking,” Mark Smith.
“Google Responds to Apple’s App Tracking Transparency,” Taylor Hart.
“The Facebook Spat with Apple,” Taylor Hart.
“Google to Stop Supporting Third-Party Cookies on Chrome,” Mark Smith.