Google delay its long-standing decision to block third-party cookies from its Chrome browser within a year, citing the need to “move at a responsible pace” and “to avoid compromising the business models of many web publishers that support freely available content “.
Google’s business model was likely also factored into the decision: it relies on third-party cookies for some of its lucrative advertising activities and is a major player in the digital advertising ecosystem that will be shaken by the change. . So Google has never been so keen to do this.
Third-party cookies are the number of advertising companies and data brokers that follow you around the internet. They can see which sites you visit and use them to build a profile of you and your interests, which is then used to target advertisements to you.
People who care about their online privacy usually don’t like to be followed this way. Some browsers have responded by blocking third-party cookies and making their privacy a selling point. You can check out Recode’s guide to browsers if you want to learn more, but Apple’s Firefox, Brave, and Safari already block third-party cookies by default and have been doing so for some time now. Chrome, on the other hand, dragged its feet to do the same. Now that drives them even more.
Google announced in January 2020 that it would eliminate third-party cookies from Chrome by 2022. The company has vowed to use those two years to deliver a more private alternative that users and advertisers (and Google) would be happy with. It has made a few attempts since then, most notably the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).
The problem is that FLoC doesn’t completely stop tracking. Rather, it puts this tracking in the hands of Google: Internet activity of Chrome users will be tracked through the browser itself, and then Google will group users into large groups based on their interests. Advertisers can then target groups rather than the individual. This is supposed to keep users anonymous while allowing advertisers to target them, but it also gives Google a lot more control over the information collected through it, and advertising companies a lot less. Google was pretty enthusiastic about FloC, but it wasn’t exactly popular with privacy experts, ad tech companies, or regulators. the UK and the European Union investigate if this violates their antitrust laws.
So Google – which, to be fair, has always said 2022 is a planned date and not absolutely certain – announced that it was going to need more time to implement its cookie ban.
“We need to move forward at a responsible pace,” the company said in a blog post. “This will leave enough time for public debate on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services. This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers that support freely available content.
That last sentence is the key – it’s a reminder that your data is the currency of the “free” Internet. Any company that trades in this currency will always find a way to collect it.
The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), an advertising industry group, was (unsurprisingly) pleased to learn that the cookie ban was being delayed.
“We value Google’s thoughtful approach to ensuring a diverse, competitive and privacy-friendly Internet experience for consumers and businesses,” Group President and CEO Leigh Freund said in a statement. “[This is] an opportunity to take the time necessary to build an ecosystem that truly gives consumers the privacy and benefits they deserve.
So now Google says it will stop supporting third-party cookies in your Chrome browser by the end of 2023. As to what will replace those cookies, it’s still an open question. FLoC is apparently one of many options Google is considering, saying there are more than 30 proposals in the works and four of them are being tested.
Chrome is the most popular browser on the market, and it’s also the only one that is run by a company with a significant advertising platform. Getting rid of cookies and tracking will hurt Google. This isn’t a factor for its rivals, which is why they quickly embraced anti-tracking tools and Google is lagging behind until it can find a way to make tracking more palatable.