Google’s cookie execution will have to wait. Another two years, in fact. The search engine giant announced June 24 it will delay Chrome’s phase-out of third-party cookies to over a three-month period starting in mid-2023 and ending in late 2023. Google originally announced in early 2020 it would phase out cookies within two years, or by the end of 2022, meaning this could be a near two-year delay.
Google also plans to end trials of its cookies alternative — the open-source Privacy Sandbox — in the coming weeks and incorporate input before advancing to further ecosystem testing.
Cookies track individual web browsing for advertising opportunities. Web browsers Mozilla and Safari already have blocked cookies ad-tracking on its sites. Sigh of relief for some marketers who may not have been ready to part ways with the cookie tracking machine? Likely.
Google’s delay announcement comes about two weeks after announced a set of transparency and privacy commitments related to the design and implementation of the Privacy Sandbox. The commitments could become legally binding if accepted by the UK government's Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), which has pushed the search giant for greater transparency since it opened an investigation earlier this year. And it also just so happens reports surfaced this week of Amazon blocking Google’s FLoC technologies.
Marketing Leader: Announcement Only Goes So Far
Google’s Privacy Sandbox is built on anonymized group-targeting principles vs. individuals. Google calls these groups “Federated Learning of Cohorts,” or FLoC, where brands won’t be able to determine who they are targeting specifically, but will still get to curate relevant advertisements based on the interests of each FLoC. It is currently rolled out for a few months now in a developer origin trial in Chrome.
“Today’s announcement of a postponement to the retirement of third-party cookies until mid-2023 only goes so far. Google’s timing appears to fit with the ending of commitments given to the UK CMA,” James Rosewell, director of Marketers for an Open Web (MOW), said in a statement shared with CMSWire. “Other aspects of the Privacy Sandbox could merely bypass the CMA commitments.”
MOW, a group of online publishers, advertisers, tech and data companies, argues that ending cookies and requiring users to turn to its own Privacy Sandbox replacement will give Google an unfair advantage and strengthen its grip on digital advertising.
“It is vital that regulators now look at the degree of control Google exercises over the market,” Rosewell added. “The entire Privacy Sandbox technology, which covers 22 other proposed changes, has to be taken apart and properly examined. As long as Google continues to track individuals and monetize that capability while preventing choice for others, regulators and MOW will not be satisfied. Google is not saying they will stop ‘individual tracking.’”
Related Article: Could Google's Privacy Sandbox Commitments Be a Win for Marketers?
Google: We Need Time for Public Discussion
What does Google say? Vinay Goel, privacy engineering director for Google Chrome, admitted in his blog post that while there’s considerable progress with this initiative, "it's become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right."
Google needs to move "at a responsible pace" in order to allow sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services, Goel wrote.
"This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content," Goel wrote. "And by providing privacy-preserving technology, we as an industry can help ensure that cookies are not replaced with alternative forms of individual tracking, and discourage the rise of covert approaches like fingerprinting."
Google wants to have key technologies deployed by late 2022 for the developer community to start adopting them. Next step? Phase out third-party cookies over a three-month period, starting in mid-2023 and ending in late 2023. Goel said any steps forward also be subject to our engagement with UK's CMA and need to be in line with Google's commitments.
Specifically, Google envisions phasing out support for third party cookies in two stages:
- Stage 1 (starting late 2022): Once testing is complete and APIs are launched in Chrome, Google will announce the start of stage 1. During stage 1, publishers and the advertising industry will have time to migrate their services. "We expect this stage to last for nine months, and we will monitor adoption and feedback carefully before moving to Stage 2," Goel wrote.
- Stage 2 (starting mid-2023): Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a three-month period finishing in late 2023.
Marketers Must Still Brace for Big Changes
What's a marketer to do now? The end of cookies on Chrome may be delayed. The marketing campaigns don't stop, though.
Most marketers were not prepared to shift their measurement strategies by the initial deadline from Google so this should be a relief, according to Chris Comstock, chief product officer at Claravine.
"What isn’t often discussed is the level of effort required to overhaul your marketing measurement strategies," Comstock said, "and it is not as simple as changing a few KPIs or adding a new piece of technology. The real change requires alignment across teams, a culture change to more marketing experimentation, making sure your data science and measurement teams have a complete view of data for optimization and modeling."
Engagement, Resistance Can Be Effective
The problem Google and its allies are trying to solve is much more challenging than many advocates and vendors on all sides of the privacy debate would have us believe, according to Andrew Frank, distinguished vice president analyst at Gartner. "It may take many years for a solution to emerge that adequately balances consumer privacy with marketers' data needs and other security considerations," Frank said.
Further, Frank added, the current situation is volatile so maximizing operational flexibility is key. And while it has lately seemed like marketers and publishers are powerless to influence the plans of big tech giants to use their platforms to re-engineer the Internet, Frank said, engagement and resistance can still be effective.
"The web was built on neutral standards," Frank said. "Marketers and other advocates should insist its evolution be subject to similar independent governance."