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Google announced today that it will remove cookies, the tried and true data tracking tech, for 1% of Chrome users early next year. The users will be chosen at random before fully removing cookies completely later next year.
“This was to support developers [in] conducting real-world experiments without third party cookies,” Victor Wong, senior director of product management at Google, told Adweek. “Having 1% of chrome users, which are randomly chosen, creates closer to real-world conditions for everyone to assess.”
Google continues to work with marketers on a suite of privacy-minded ad-tech solutions called Privacy Sandbox, which will be rolled out to all Chrome users this July. This will allow advertisers and publishers time to test alternatives on a complete population. Additionally, Google will give advertisers the opportunity to simulate cookie deprecation in the fourth quarter of this year.
We don’t want to see the deadline extended further.
Victor Wong, senior director of product management, Google
While the ad industry has known for nearly five years that third-party cookies are going away, publishers and ad buyers have been lagging in testing replacements, including Google’s Protected Audiences API (formerly called Fledge) and alternative identifiers, Adweek has previously reported.
“It makes it a little bit more real for people,” Paul Ryan, CTO of supply-side platform OpenX, told Adweek. “It’s a little bit of a way to accelerate the process.”
The need for A/B testing
Demand-side platform RTB House has been an early tester of Protected Audiences API but has had trouble fully understanding how well the solution works because Google Ad Manager, and no other SSPs, have been sending bid requests for this protocol in the bid stream, Lukasz Wlodarczyk, VP of Programmatic Ecosystem Growth & Innovation, told Adweek.
When 1% of Chrome users are no longer monetizable by cookies, it will likely force these SSPs and other ad-tech players to take action, he said.
“[This] is addressing exactly a lot of the concerns that have been raised by the active participants in the test,” Wlodarczyk said. “We see this as a response to our feedback.”
Part of the reason SSPs have been reticent to test cookie alternatives is that it is hard to isolate their impact: if a publisher wins an auction, that impression might have an alternative ID and a cookie attached to it, and it is hard to ascertain on what grounds a DSP made their bidding decision, said Mike O’Sullivan, co-founder of measurement-focused ad-tech firm Sincera.
Also, publishers don’t want to risk monetizing users via an identifier that the demand side is less likely to pick up, potentially leaving money on the table, Wong said.
“Now you are testing all the alternatives but if it doesn’t work, you just lost a bunch of money,” Wong said.
Once 1% of users are not monetizable, using a cookie alternative goes from risk to necessity, as otherwise, these users would generate no revenue for publishers.
While publishers and their SSP partners are more sensitive to changes in revenue that might come from using cookie alternatives, DSPs also have challenges bidding on other identifiers while cookies still exist, Wlordarczyk said.
“We are controlling only what we’re bidding,” he said. “We’re not controlling what kind of information our competitors are using.”
Time to adjust
Sources contrasted Google’s slow ramp approach as favorable to other major changes to digital advertising, like the General Data Protection Regulation. Its sudden enforcement caught unprepared websites off-guard.
The testing period at the beginning of 2024 opens Google up for feedback.
“A progressive rollout is valuable because it gives [Google] flexibility to course correct,” O’Sullivan said.
But Google doesn’t have too much flexibility to further move back its cookie deprecation timeline, especially given its commitment to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, even if publishers find results from the test period uninspiring.
“Google plans to remove third party cookies,” Wong said. “We don’t want to see the deadline extended further.”
OpenX’s Ryan said that half a year is enough time for publishers to adapt their monetization strategies to a cookieless reality, especially given that the industry has long known this day would come.
“It is technically enough time to build all the things we need to build and help the ecosystem adapt to this new higher privacy way,” he said.