Google postpones the deletion of cookies to the end of 2023

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Google’s move reflects the challenges tech giants face as they attempt to meet demands for tighter protections for user privacy without shaking up the $ 455 billion online ad ecosystem or invite complaints that they are granting themselves special advantages.

Google has delayed plans to ditch a technology that tracks web browsing habits amid regulatory scrutiny and concerns from privacy advocates and the advertising industry about the giant’s approach. looking to replace the tool.

On Thursday, the Alphabet Inc. unit said its Chrome internet browser will stop supporting a user-tracking technology called third-party cookies by the end of 2023, almost two years later than its original early 2022 timeline. .

Google said the delay would give it more time to put publishers, advertisers and regulators at ease with new technologies it is developing to enable targeted advertising after cookies are phased out.

“While there is tremendous progress with this initiative, it has become clear that it takes more time in the ecosystem to get it right,” Google said.

Google’s move reflects the challenges tech giants face as they attempt to meet demands for tighter user privacy protections without shaking up the $ 455 billion online ad ecosystem or invite complaints that they are granting themselves special advantages.

Apple Inc. has rolled out several major privacy updates for its devices this year, including requiring all apps to obtain user permission to follow them. Google and Apple have each faced complaints from the advertising industry that the changes they are making will strengthen their own advertising businesses.

Earlier this week, the European Union said it was investigating Google’s plan to delete cookies as part of a wide-ranging investigation into allegations that Google abused its leading role in advertising technology. .

Google has separately committed to give the UK competition watchdog at least 60 days’ notice before removing cookies to review and possibly force changes to its plan, as part of a settlement offer. ‘a similar survey. This investigation stems from complaints that Chrome’s deletion of cookies gives an advantage to advertisements on Google’s own products, such as YouTube or Search, where Google will still be able to perform targeting at the individual level.

In the United States, Google’s cookie replacement plan was raised in an antitrust lawsuit filed in December against the company by Texas and nine other U.S. states.

Google plays a central role in the online advertising ecosystem. It has the main tools used to negotiate the sale of ads on the web. Cookies, small pieces of code stored in web browsers to track users across the web, are widely used in industry, including in Google’s Chrome browser, which has 65% of the global market, according to Statcounter.

Google’s delay has been relieved by advertisers and publishers, who will have more time to test and adapt to the technology that replaces cookies.

Ellie Bamford, global media manager at RGA, a digital advertising company owned by Interpublic Group of Cos., Said Google “underestimated the fear marketers had of what it would mean and the level of preparedness it would take. marketers must have “.

Paul Bannister, chief strategy officer for the CafeMedia blogging network, said that since the vast majority of digital advertising is powered by cookies, “it is essential that the alternative technologies work properly. It is also essential to be successful. ensure that more money doesn’t go to the tech giants in the process. “

Google has tested several new tools to replace various functions of third-party cookies, as part of what it calls a privacy sandbox. The first of these alternative technologies, dubbed Federated Cohort Learning, or Floc, is intended to allow advertisers to target cohorts of users with similar interests, rather than individuals, in order to protect their privacy.

But Floc’s first technical tests, which began in April, have been slow. Initially, Google said it would allow advertisers to purchase ads for Floc in the second quarter as part of Google’s testing. Google then postponed this period to the third quarter, advertising executives said.

Advertising industry players have also expressed skepticism about Google’s claims that targeting ads with Floc is at least 95% as effective as targeting based on cookies.

Google has “struggled to build trust in Floc,” said Jayna Kothary, chief technology officer at MRM, a marketing agency that is part of the Interpublic Group of Cos. Most advertisers don’t think Floc is 95% as effective as cookies and “early experiences have yet to prove this,” she said.

Google engineer Michael Kleber told a developer conference in mid-May that the company was working on answers to how Floc should eventually perform.

“We don’t have it ready yet because we don’t know what the answers are,” Kleber said. He added that everything “about how Floc works is very likely to change.” The acronym Floc was chosen to reflect a flock of birds, Mr Kleber said.

Google said Thursday it “received substantial feedback from the web community” during Floc’s initial testing.

The company also said it plans to complete testing of all of its new cookie replacement technologies and bring them into Chrome before the end of 2022. Then, digital publishers and the digital advertising industry will have a period. nine months to migrate their services, during which time Google will monitor adoption and feedback.

The final cookie removal will take place over three months at the end of 2023, the company said, adding that it would release a more detailed schedule.

Two rival web browsers that favor privacy, Mozilla’s Firefox and Brave, have said they don’t support Floc. Some prominent websites have debated whether to not use the system. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group, says Floc could be misused to help identify device fingerprints, a technique that can identify specific web browsers without the use of cookies. . This could potentially reveal sensitive information gleaned while browsing the web, despite safeguards Google says it is building, according to the rights group.

On Thursday, Google said it was making progress in its work on technologies aimed at hampering device fingerprints through Chrome, including reducing the amount of technical information a Chrome browser provides to the websites it visits.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment further.

Brian Lesser, managing director of InfoSum Ltd., a data services company, and former managing director of Xandr, the digital advertising company of AT&T Inc., said that “Google’s intentions are noble in the sense that they want to protect consumer data. Floc is an idea and I think it has to exist in a range of different alternatives to cookies. “


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