In a move that many have feared for the last year, Google has finally given a timeline for phasing out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome web browser. The tech giant said it will take two years to complete the transition.
Google is bowing to pressure to shore up privacy standards across its online advertising platforms and freely available web tools, a move that will affect more than half of all web users.
In a statement released earlier today Justin Schuh, director of Chrome engineering at Google, confirmed the timeline, vowing that Google will seek “privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms” that will maintain “an ad-supported web.”
“Once these approaches have addressed the needs of users, publishers and advertisers, and we have developed the tools to mitigate workarounds, we plan to phase out support for third-party cookies in Chrome,” he wrote. “Our intention is to do this within two years.”
The rules of the Privacy Sandbox
The initiative, which Google calls Privacy Sandbox and was first announced in August, should be welcomed (to a certain extent, at least) by consumer-privacy advocates who cast a long shadow over ad tech.
Schuh is urging the entire ecosystem to back Google’s initiative, which will begin testing alternative methods to implement ad personalization and measure conversions in a cookie-free environment later this year.
Nathan Woodman, founder of Proof in Data and former CDO at Havas, described the prospect of new privacy standards as “exciting” to Adweek. “Google’s proposed Privacy Sandbox and the federated learning approach they have outlined give us as an industry a path forward to respect user privacy to the highest standard and also support user targeting, personalization and recommendation use cases,” he added. “We have work to do in order to adapt to the changes, but it will be with the effort.”
Meanwhile, Wayne Blodwell, CEO of tech consultancy The Programmatic Advisory, said the latest revelations were “unsurprising” given the momentum of the public outcry for better user privacy.
“The fact is that third-party data is often misused,” he said. The ad industry standard for data-sharing real-time bidding protocol, for example, is under review by data protection authorities under GDPR.
“But, I think from a media buyers’ perspective, it’s going to be a challenge to targeting within Chrome. And as with anything we’ll have to wait and see if it will benefit Google more than others.”
Meanwhile, Ari Paparo, CEO of Beeswax (and a former Google employee), told Adweek, “while all of these proposals rein in types of tracking—for example, view-through attribution would never be possible—the positive side is that they could unify the various browsers around privacy-safe solutions that work web-wide instead of the balkanized state per browser.”
Who’s looking out for the media industry?
Adweek first reported that Google was contemplating ending support for cookies in March, a move that was later confirmed and sent public confidence in ad tech crashing, especially in publicly traded ad-tech companies whose business proposition was based on third-party cookies.
Schuh’s statement goes on to mention Google’s collaboration with web standards body W3C as part of the project, an overt move that several sources believe demonstrates its attempt to ward off regulatory scrutiny.
“Google doesn’t want to force the death of the cookie too quickly in case it attracts antitrust attention,” said a source inside a major holding group, who requested anonymity for fear of professional retribution.
They added, “Although, it’s in its interest to accelerate it, as the decline of cookies is good for the walled gardens [which have lots of first-party data] as advertisers will still spend with them.”
According to Jeremy Fain, CEO and co-founder of Cognitiv, Google should heed the lessons from Apple’s introduction of intelligent tracking prevention in 2017, a move that hamstrung many publishers’ ability to monetize Safari users.