The giant Google has made public its decision to postpone its plans to eliminate third-party cookies in the Chrome browser until 2023, a year or more later than originally planned.
Other browsers such as Safari and Firefox have already implemented some blocking against third-party tracking cookies, but Chrome is the most used desktop browser and as such their change will have the most impact on the advertising industry. That’s why the term “cookiepocalypse” has become a common term.
In the blog post announcing the postponement, Google states that the decision to eliminate cookies for a “three-month period” in mid-2023 is “subject to our commitment to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) from UK”. In other words, Google is attributing part of the delay to the need to work more closely with regulators to create new technologies to replace third-party cookies for advertising use.
Few will show solidarity with Google, but Google has found itself in a very difficult position as the only company that dominates several sectors: search, ads and browsers.
The more Google cuts off third-party tracking, the more it hurts other advertising companies and potentially increases its dominance of ad space. The less Google stops tracking, the more likely it will be criticized for not protecting user privacy.
And no matter what you do, you’ll come under heavy fire from regulators, privacy advocates, advertisers, publishers and anyone else with any kind of web participation.
Finding a balance between these divergent incentives has proven, to say the least, a difficult task. One reason is that, as the administrator of the open web, Google is trying to openly develop new privacy technologies through the usual process of creating web standards. It’s put together several efforts under the rubric of “Privacy Sandbox”, an umbrella term for a bunch of different new proposals for Chrome and the web.
The most controversial of these proposals has been the “Federated Learning of Cohorts” (FLoC) technology. It’s a very complicated attempt to create demographically similar user groups in a semi-anonymous decentralized system that advertisers could use to target ads. However, no other browser vendor has indicated that they agree with the use of FLoC, and several have explicitly stated that they would block it. The best response Google has really gotten is this Mozilla analysis that identifies some issues in a way that doesn’t completely close the door on future Firefox adoption.
Google is aiming for a “rigorous, multi-phase public development process, including extensive discussion and testing periods” for FLoC and other proposals, a pretty obvious sign that it will eventually change or replace FLoC. “We plan to complete this source testing in the coming weeks and incorporate information before moving on to more ecosystem testing,” says Google.
The company is promising that “more detailed schedule” will be posted on the Privacy Sandbox website.