The Google Announcement
What exactly did Google announce?
On Tuesday, January 14, Google announced plans to restrict the use of third-party cookies in its Chrome internet browser, a move intended to bolster user privacy. In its wake, Google has proposed the Google Privacy Sandbox, a set of web standards—a conversation starter, if you will—whose stated purpose is to protect privacy while still allowing advertisers to target and measure campaigns.
When will third-party cookies be eliminated from Chrome?
Google has signaled that Chrome will phase out third-party cookies in two year’s time, 2022. Google has also indicated that it wishes to signal its intent and willingness to engage in discussions with the industry to develop a suitable replacement. As part of this roadmap, Google will also be removing access to Chrome user agent starting in April 2020.
How do these changes differ from the cookie restrictions put in place by Apple (Safari) and Mozilla (Firefox)?
Both Apple and Mozilla continue to support cookies, but the default setting is to block these cookies; users need to go into their browser settings to enable these cookies. Furthermore, both Firefox and Safari allow access to the user agent, which enables third parties like Flashtalking to access key attributes that can be used to provide relevant messaging in a privacy-compliant (i.e. anonymized) manner.
Google’s announcement takes this one step further—it plans to completely phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022. There will be no ability for users to opt-in because third-party cookies will no longer exist. Furthermore, Chrome will limit access to the user agent starting in April 2020.
Why do we think Google took this step?
That there is a move to restrict third-party cookies is NOT a surprise. It is a logical extension of the earlier steps by Apple (Safari) and Mozilla (Firefox) to block third-party cookies by default, as well as Chrome’s recent changes for cross-domain cookies. Google was effectively forced into a corner by Safari and Firefox; it had to address the privacy issue. However, due to its dominant market position (65%-70% browser share), if Chrome had blocked cookies immediately, it would have introduced significant disruption to the digital advertising ecosystem. This measured approach effectively threads the needle by addressing consumer privacy over the long-term—by removing third-party cookies by 2022—while minimizing near-term ecosystem impacts and possibly warding off additional regulatory scrutiny.
What replacement is Google proposing?
Google has proposed the Google Privacy Sandbox, a set of web standards—a conversation starter, if you will—whose stated purpose is to protect privacy while still allowing advertisers to target and measure campaigns. The expectation is that the Privacy Sandbox will build the key functionality that replaces third-party cookies. Ultimately, Chrome proposes to store individual user-level information in the browser, letting outside ad tech companies do an API call to the Privacy Sandbox in order to receive personalization and measurement data without user-level information.
What tools has Google rolled out to support this transition to a post-cookie world?
Nothing has happened yet, nothing is settled, and no concrete tools have been built. Currently, the Privacy Sandbox consists of proposals. It’s pretty safe to say that everyone in the industry has read the proposals on the Chrome blog, but no one fully understands them yet. It will take time for the industry to converge to a solution.
What immediate changes are being implemented by Google/Chrome?
There will be no substantial changes in the short- and medium-term. The vision for a cookieless future will evolve over the next two years; however, there is no short-term impact on Flashtalking clients. The only tangible change Google has signaled at this juncture is the obfuscation of the Chrome user agent over the course of March through September 2020. Still, we do not expect this change to have any material impact on the functionality of Flashtalking’s products and services.
Will first-party cookies be affected?
No, only third-party cookies will be affected.
Does the advertising industry have any say into what is developed in the Privacy Sandbox and how it functions?
Google has signaled its intent and willingness to engage in discussion with the industry. Their decision will have significant impacts on the entire industry. The ANA and 4A’s have already criticized Google’s plan, and publishers, advertisers, and regulators will have strong opinions that will inform and shape the ultimate solution over the next two years and beyond.
If the Privacy Sandbox is open for comment, what parties are participating?
Theoretically, anyone can participate in the process; however, this process does feel a little different. Traditionally, the IAB and big publishers defined the standards. In this case, it feels like the mantle has been picked up by engineering and privacy groups who answer to standards bodies like the W3C. Within Google, there has traditionally been a wall between the browser and advertising teams; while that is probably a good thing, here it could result in a solution that over-indexes on the technology side of the ledger. Therefore, it is imperative that advertisers, publishers and tech partners like Flashtalking actively participate in the process.