Google grants a stay of execution to third-party cookies


Call it “the cookie apocalypse”, “the Cookiepocalypse” or “Google Chrome’s abandonment of third-party browser cookies”. Whichever you choose, it won’t happen until the end of 2023, if ever.

That was the word last week as Google quietly announced the delay, which affects a wide range of digital ads, from ad sales markets to data management platform providers and data brokers.

Google has two-thirds of the desktop browser market as well as one of the most powerful advertising platforms on the Internet. Deprecating anonymous third-party cookies for ad tracking, which Apple did for its Safari browser last year, is widely seen as a way to protect consumer privacy.

But it also dilutes the value of digital ads for Google, Facebook, and many of the roughly 5,000 other ad platforms, as it becomes more difficult to know who sees a particular ad. Google is working on another way to measure anonymized users called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), which some people think of as another identifier. A Google spokesperson said no. Instead, he called it a “privacy-preserving API” that can serve ads to large, anonymous groups with similar browsing behaviors.

Whatever its name, FloC works as an identifier, said Liz Miller, analyst for Constellation Research. Advertisers and marketers already have to manage many identifiers in their ad spend for Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and other platforms. So FloC goes back to dry dock for more development work, with the contribution of advertisers, and the third-party cookie gets a stay of execution.

“[Early FloC concepts] basically just rebranded the sign that was plastered in front of the walled garden doing nothing to help brands overcome this problem of having to manage complex advertising ecosystems, ”Miller said. “What scares marketers, agencies and advertisers is the loss of spending efficiency versus the perceived effectiveness of targeted advertising.”

With Google Chrome, the dominant browser controlling two-thirds of the world’s desktops as of March 2021, dropping – and replacing – third-party cookies has proven to be a complex challenge.

EU opens antitrust investigation

Google’s delay in deprecating third-party cookies came two days after the European Union launched an antitrust investigation into Google’s advertising practices.

“Google is present at almost every level of the supply chain for online display advertising,” European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said in a press release on the investigation. “We are concerned that Google has made it harder to compete among competing online advertising services in the so-called adtech stack. “

A Google spokesperson said the timing was a coincidence. The delay in moving away from third-party cookies from 2022 to 2023 will allow time for public debate and continued engagement with regulators, and give advertisers and publishers more time to migrate their services.

Miller and Tina Moffett of Forrester Research point out that while Google’s communications were strong on intentions, they were weak on technical details.

“The EU announcement – and then Google’s announcement shortly thereafter – was a strong indication that the depreciation of the third-party cookie without, really, any clarity and transparency was going to be problematic,” Moffett said. “I certainly don’t want to speculate, but there were a lot of forces at play that I think forced Google to rethink the timeline.”

2023 not a firm deadline

In its blog post, Google left the door open to maintaining third-party cookies beyond 2023, as Google and the advertising industry work together to make FLoC and other tools meet the privacy needs of consumers in the open source Chromium Privacy Sandbox project.

Tech ad providers want to build in ad measurement accuracy and reduce ad fraud – like fake traffic that artificially inflates the appearance of an ad’s reach – so brands that buy ads can always know what they get in return for their budgets.

Moffett and his colleagues at Forrester advise customers to assume that third-party cookies will always go away. They should move forward with plans to acquire and more effectively use their own first party data from customers as well as the “zero party data” that customers offer unsolicited – not derived from browsing or other behavior. .

Since Apple got rid of third-party cookies and which Google planned to follow, Miller said the industry has started to rely less on data collected from third-party cookies. If they fall into disuse naturally, Google wouldn’t be forced to make any changes to the ad market it created – sweeping changes that sparked a “legitimate question,” she added.

“The cynic in me says it’s a self-inflicted injury,” Miller said. “You tried it. You made an important and bold statement. It didn’t go well, it didn’t come with the thunderous applause you thought you got by pretending to be a protection company. private life.”

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