Google to Disable Third-Party Cookies for ‘Privacy’

The search engine behemoth has promised privacy changes for years, but is now enacting them – with mixed reception.

Third-party cookies aren’t particularly known by consumers to improve their Internet user experience. In fact, the only time they really come up is when people complain that they were just surfing the internet waves, only to find all their ads were targeted for the exact item they’d already bought.

But for online marketers, they’re still viewed as the bread and butter of web-based advertising. It’s not clear exactly how much third-party cookies deliver in actual revenue, but in January, Statista reported that 83% of American marketers are reliant on third-party data.

And the spending? That’s a whopping $22 billion a year.

Google to Switch 1% of Users to Privacy Sandbox

Instead of letting websites run scripts that link to third parties, Google has now decided that in Q1 2024, it will move 1% of Chrome users to its own privacy platform, Privacy Sandbox. Once that’s rolled out, according to reporting by TechCrunch, it will jump straight from 1% rollout to 100% rollout.

For both users and developers alike, there are a few milestones along the way that will help ease the transition.

Firstly, in July, when Chrome 115 launches, Google will make the company’s APIs for relevance and measurement available to developers, so that they can assess how it will impact their UX and business performance.

In addition, Google has announced it will include support for the features that will replace third-party cookie allowance. That support (and those features) will be available for users to turn on if they choose.

So what will Privacy Sandbox actually offer? According to The Verge, the list of features, “includes the Topics API that presents advertisers with some data about what users may be interested in based on your activity and the FLEDGE tool to “serve remarketing and custom audiences,” which has been renamed Protected Audience, to name a couple of them.”

Google is pretty late rolling out these changes, and it’s not clear why. For comparison, both Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox blocked third-party cookies years ago.

The company is especially late to the game when considering the privacy legislation popping up worldwide: California’s 2022 Consumer Privacy Act, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the UK’s Data Protection Act.

All of these acts are designed to protect consumer privacy, disallowing cookies from tracking them through multiple stages of their web journey.

While it may not be ideal for advertisers, it will make the internet a safer place overall, and it will generally create a nicer browsing experience.

Controversy Around Privacy Sandbox

Being the best in the game – or even, as some say, the only game in town – isn’t always easy. And despite enjoying the lion’s share of the search engine market since, well, forever, Google still faces a lot of criticism. Privacy Sandbox is no exception.

Competitors such as Microsoft’s Bing (just kidding, they’re not a contender), Apple’s Safari, DuckDuckGo, and even everyday consumers have said the move means Google will have an unfair advantage.

It makes sense: why would a company develop new privacy protocols, platforms, and products, and not give itself an advantage over its competitors? Particularly because logging into Google and following its new “Journeys” pathway means Google has access to a lot of user data. However, Google assures us it’s not the case.

Google has stated that it’s working closely with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority – which, it’s worth noting, was part of the EU Commission’s finding that Google violated monopoly laws in 2017 (for which it was fined 2.4 billion Euros).

So far, the moves Google has made are a bit lackluster and it remains to be seen how well the Privacy Sandbox migration goes.

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Written by:
Originally from Los Angeles, Sarah has lived and worked in four countries, and now calls sunny Manchester (the UK one, not the US one) home. Since her post-grad with the NCTJ in Journalism she's written for national and trade titles across the world, covering everything from construction and hospitality to tech and travel. Her special interest areas are AI and automation, cybersecurity, quantum computing and cats.
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