In a move with big implications for digital advertising, Google is pushing back its plan to kill off third-party cookies — which many advertisers use to track ads — in its Chrome web browser until starting in mid-2023.
Originally, Google had planned to phase out cookies in Chrome by early 2022, as part of an initiative it has dubbed Privacy Sandbox.
The delay is related to “our engagement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)” — the British regulatory agency that announced a formal investigation of Google’s Privacy Sandbox project in January — and “in line with the commitments we have offered,” Vinay Goel, privacy engineering director for Chrome, wrote in a blog post.
Among the things Google has promised the U.K. regulators: that it will “engage the CMA and the industry in an open, constructive and continuous dialog” and that it will not give its own advertising products or sites any preferential treatment.
“While there’s considerable progress with this initiative, it’s become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right,” Goel wrote.
Google also wants to “avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content,” he added. As such, “we need to move at a responsible pace.”
Under the revised timeline, Google plans to start testing the elimination of third-party cookies starting in late 2022. Then, Chrome could phase out third-party cookies over a three-month period, starting in mid-2023 and ending in late 2023.
“Today’s move by Google, delaying the deprecation of cookies, is clearly the right one,” said John Gentry, president and CEO of ad-tech company OpenX. “The advertising industry has been coming together over the past 12 to 18 months to work on solutions, and while it’s been great to see the progress we have collectively made, taking the time to get this right is the correct approach. This delay simply means more time for both publishers and advertisers to get ready, and in the end, it’s the consumer who will benefit.”
On the other hand, with Google’s delay on phasing out third-party cookies, “some marketers may continue their overreliance on cookies for measurement,” said Bryon Schafer, SVP of research at music-video provider Vevo. “They have become addicted to what cookies can afford” and often have “incorrect assumptions about what measures matter most and what determines success.”
Separately, Google earlier this year said it will no longer sell ads using personally identifiable information from web browsers.
Google calls its privacy-enhanced solution for serving targeted ads without using cookies Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC. That hides individuals within “large crowds of people with common interests,” according to the company. However, so far no other major web browser providers — including Mozilla, developer of Firefox — have signed on to support FLoC (pronounced “flock”).
Google “received substantial feedback from the web community during the origin trial for the first version of FLoC,” Goel noted. “We plan to conclude this origin trial in the coming weeks and incorporate input, before advancing to further ecosystem testing.”
The internet giant’s Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to create web technologies that “both protect people’s privacy online and give companies and developers the tools to build thriving digital businesses to keep the web open and accessible to everyone, now, and for the future,” according to Goel.
Google plans to post updates including a more detailed schedule on privacysandbox.com.
“By ensuring that the ecosystem can support their businesses without tracking individuals across the web, we can all ensure that free access to content continues,” Goel wrote. “And because of the importance of this mission, we must take time to evaluate the new technologies, gather feedback and iterate to ensure they meet our goals for both privacy and performance, and give all developers time to follow the best path for privacy.”