January 27, 2021
Google is replacing third-party cookies on its Chrome web browser with a more privacy-compliant option, creating an uproar among advertisers and others that use them to track consumers’ browsing across websites. Google stated it has had positive test results for its technology that analyzes browsing habits without sending sensitive data to central servers. In Q2 of this year, the company is on track for “open outside testing of ad buys” using the new technology. Google previously said it would phase out cookies in 2022.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Google product manager Chetna Bindra stated that, “we continue to believe strongly that the decision to phase out support for third party cookies is absolutely the right thing to do for user privacy and the industry as a whole.” “Our Google advertising products will be impacted just as other ad technologies will be impacted,” she added. According to StatCounter, “Chrome is the most widely used web browser, with more than 60 percent of the market globally.”
Apple is developing similar plans, aiming to “require apps to get opt-in permission from users to collect a widely used advertising identifier for iPhones, something some app developers and advertising companies say is anticompetitive because it would deprive them of needed data.” Google’s plan is being scrutinized by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.
That country’s top antitrust regulator is concerned that the plan “could cause advertisers to shift spending to Google’s set of online-ad tools at the expense of its competitors.” An antitrust lawsuit filed by Texas and nine other U.S. states addresses similar concerns.
Google responded that, “in a simulated test, the technology that analyzes browsing on individual devices led to ‘at least 95 percent of the conversions per dollar spent’ compared with traditional cookies.” The company added that it is “working with other companies in the digital-ad space to help develop the new technologies and is incorporating their feedback in the cookie replacements.”
CNBC reports that Google plans to share some of the findings of its cookie replacement proposal, Federated Learning of Cohorts, which allows tracking by cohorts, in the Chrome browser’s Privacy Sandbox, “an initiative launched in 2019 to find alternatives to the cookie while mitigating the impact on publishers and other players.” Chrome engineers have been working with “the broader industry, including with web standards organization W3C, on ideas in the Sandbox that have been proposed by Google and other ad tech players.”
Bindra noted that the current technology is only “one proposal … it is absolutely not the final or the singular proposal to replace third-party cookies.” She explained that, “there won’t be one final API that will go forward, it will be a collection of them that allows for things like interest-based advertising, as well as for measurement use cases, where it’s critical to be able to ensure that advertisers can measure the effectiveness of their ads.”