Google has confirmed plans to phase out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser within the next two years. This comes as no surprise following the ad tech giant’s procedures last month in tightening it’s privacy settings and allowing users more control over how their online browsing is being tracked and shared, including deleting third-party data.

“This is our strategy to re-architect the standards of the web, to make it privacy-preserving by default,” explained Justin Schuh, Google’s director for Chrome engineering to TechCrunch. 

“There’s been a lot of focus around third-party cookies, and that certainly is one of the tracking mechanisms, but that’s just a tracking mechanism and we’re calling it out because it’s the one that people are paying attention to,” he added.

Commencing in February, Google is implementing further measures to limit cross-site tracking by enforcing its new SamSite rules and by requiring that cookies that are labelled for third-party use can only be accessed over an HTTPS connection. Having done the previous testing, the overall concept is to allow developers who want others to use their cookies to explicitly label them as such.

Adjustment period

Google’s two-year plan, according to Shuch, is designed to give users, publishers and advertisers an adjustment period. In addition, it’s forthcoming “privacy sandbox” solution will allow users to be served relevant ads while minimising advertisers’ access to specific data that makes it easier to identify individuals.

The move is a big change from Google and certainly marks a shift of direction for the digital advertising industry, which has had its fair share of transparency issues in the last 12 months. Then, of course, you have the publishers and advertisers who utilise tracking data online, which Schuh said will be migrated to some of the new systems due to arrive over the next two years once it commences further trials.

However, there’s no denying that advertisers will be concerned by the efforts to remove third-party cookies, which could result in significant losses in revenue and wasted investment.

“This one has been in the pipeline for some time after the introduction of ITP on Safari,” said Victoria Doherty, PPC and biddable manager at Loom Digital; “From a PPC perspective, these new privacy settings will change the way Google build their audiences, given that third-party cookies will no longer be an option. This could mean that audience groups are not as reflective of people’s online behaviour as they would have been before. However, this remains to be seen and as it’s in Google’s best interests to get this right and create a solution that works, even with the fewer data points they will inevitably have on web users,” she added.

“There will also be obvious impacts on remarketing, and it’s honestly difficult to say what that will look like after this change. The same applies to attribution,” Doherty concluded.

“Google’s decision to drop third-party cookies is expected, though clarifying a timeline was refreshing. Forward-thinking advertisers are already relying on first-party publisher data more than third-party cookies. They know publishers have close relationships with their audiences and are therefore in a good position when it comes to data collection and gaining consent from users. Now advertisers have a countdown clock when those transitions to first-party data need to be complete,” commented Keith Pieper, VP product operations at Sovrn.

“The latest Chrome announcement should accelerate adoption for programmatic advertising to evolve and transact in more consumer-friendly, transparent ways. More important, it will push advertisers to partner with vendors that have direct access to first-party data, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations and prioritizing consumer-first practices,” he added.

“Chrome’s move away from third-party cookies is indicative of ongoing changes in the wider digital sector and reflects the need for improved practices when it comes to data privacy. While there is no doubt it will have a major impact on an industry that has for years been based around the cookie, much of the negative sentiment around the announcement is misdirected,” said Stuart Colman, VP Sales at InfoSum.

“The fundamentals of what we do aren’t broken, but the mechanism we use is being taken away, so we need to reimagine the industry and embrace the change, as it offers a huge opportunity to shape a better advertising ecosystem. It will force brands and publishers to build on the relationships they have with their known, logged in audiences, create a greater reliance on rarer but better quality first-party data, and increase the demand for technologies that allow them to gain insights from this data in a brand-safe, privacy-compliant manner.”

“We’ve closely followed the increasing threats to third-party cookies over recent years, but based on Chrome’s significant market share, this announcement from Google gives us an actual timeframe for the cookie’s demise. While the idea of the Privacy Sandbox presents some interesting concepts and we will no doubt see innovation in that area, a lot remains to be seen as to how it will evolve between now and 2022. Our industry must accelerate efforts to develop more sustainable options – such as driving for authentication and users to log-in – that will provide an alternative way to offer personalised experiences, without relying on third-party cookies,” commented Ben Barokas, co-founder and CEO of Sourcepoint.

“Following the ICO’s report last year and the newly implemented CCPA, we believe the time is now right for Google to take this important step towards making the web ‘more private and secure for users’,” said Peter Mason, co-founder of Illuma Technology.

“As Google takes this much-needed journey towards privacy, we will be watching with interest for its proposed solutions around conversion measurement, personalisation and anti-fingerprinting; and also observing how it handles its own vast library of first-party data.”