Recently Google announced that over the next few years, it will stop supporting third-party cookies on Chrome. With Chrome currently accounting for more than half of all installed web browsers, this is big news. It follows actions by Apple and Mozilla to block tracking cookies in Safari and Firefox respectively, too. In light of this news, we’ve answered some questions you may have. A big caveat: this is an evolving story, and one being played out over the next two years. A lot can happen yet. That said, here’s what we know:
What Exactly Is Google Doing to Third-Party Cookies?
Google announced that over the next two years, it will not support third-party cookies on its Chrome browser. Let’s break down what this means:
- A third-party cookie consists of text stored in a person’s computer that is created by a website with a domain name other than the site a visitor is visiting.
- Third-party cookies make it possible for an advertiser to track a person’s browsing history and, in theory, serve up more personalized ads that follow a person around the web.
- Typically web browsers allow third-party cookies.
But over the next few years, Chrome will replace third-party cookies with browser-based tools and techniques aimed at balancing personalization and privacy. So, third-party cookies are going away from Chrome – but that doesn’t mean advertising is. Far from it.
Google said it will replace third-party cookies with a (vaguely defined) browser-based mechanism as part of a new “Privacy Sandbox.” The Privacy Sandbox is an evolving and (equally vague sounding) “secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy.” Google describes the Privacy Sandbox an “open source initiative is to make the web more private and secure for users, while also supporting publishers.” In an August 2019 blog post, Google said the Privacy Sandbox would be a place to collaborate on better ways to provide relevant ads while protecting personal privacy:
Some ideas include new approaches to ensure that ads continue to be relevant for users, but user data shared with websites and advertisers would be minimized by anonymously aggregating user information, and keeping much more user information on-device only. Our goal is to create a set of standards that is more consistent with users’ expectations of privacy.
The unplugging of support for third-party cookies looks like a way for Google to get the industry to start playing in its Privacy Sandbox, resulting in a mechanism that will replace the cookie, protecting user privacy while also supporting advertisers. No one knows what that mechanism is going to look like yet.
Why Is Google Going to Stop Supporting Third-Party cookies in Chrome?
Google says it’s trying to balance personalization and privacy. Google’s stated objective is to create “a secure environment for personalization that also protects user privacy.” In announcing the change, Google said, “Users are demanding greater privacy–including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used — and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.” At the same time, Google wants to make it possible for businesses to continue to offer personalized content. Google intends for the still-evolving browser-based mechanism envisioned by Google to do that.
How Will Ads Be Affected?
If you use a Google ad products, you will not be affected. Google will still be able to use data from its own search and other properties to target ads to people. But once Google phases out third-party support, you won’t be able to use third-party cookies to follow users around on Chrome and retarget with an ad them after they’ve visited your website.
How Has the Industry Reacted?
The move has received a mixed response.
Some critics point out that phasing out third-party cookies on Chrome is a cynical play to strengthen Google’s ad business because Google’s ability to use data from its own search and other properties to target ads to people remains unaffected.
Others have speculated that the change will make obsolete many tools that advertiser have been relying on. As Adweek noted,
Marketers wary of the industry’s reliance on Google will have to figure out how they can adapt their first-party data strategy as some of the de rigueur marketing tools of recent years are rendered redundant in most internet browsers. These include third-party data and data management platforms, and multitouch attribution providers, all of whose days would appear to be numbered (at least in their current guise), as third-party data has been a critically important part of how marketers shape their communications strategies with consumers for close to 25 years. For instance, Procter & Gamble, one of the industry’s largest-spending advertisers, this week effused over its frequency capping efforts at the National Retail Federation’s annual conference.
The Association of National Advertisers and American Association of Advertising Agencies issued a joint statement that said, “We are deeply disappointed that Google would unilaterally declare such a major change without prior careful consultation across the digital and advertising industries. In the interim, we strongly urge Google to publicly and quickly commit to not imposing this moratorium on third-party cookies until effective and meaningful alternatives are available.”
In fact, it’s possible that backlash will cause Google to reverse its course. A lot can happen in two years.
What Should Advertisers Do?
We reached out to Google to find out what near-term steps businesses need to take. Here’s what Google says:
First, you don’t need to do anything with your Google ad products. Google will be updating the cookies that Google sets and accesses for our advertising products prior to the deadline
Google recommends that you:
- Confirm with your own engineers that they have conducted testing on your sites to assess impact and are updating any third-party cookies they control. It is important to also check non-ads use cases (e.g., logins, shopping cards).
- Confirm with your vendors (ads and non-ads) that any cookies they set and access on your sites will be updated.
This is an evolving situation. We recommend keeping a close watch. At True Interactive, we’re following the situation closely and will be ready to help our clients sense and respond.
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