Google has begun the process of blocking third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, a move that marks the end of an era for the digital advertising industry and will force major changes in how ads are targeted and measured online.
On January 4th, Google enabled a newprivacy feature called Tracking Protection for 1% of Chrome desktop users globally, blocking third-party cookies by default. This is the first phase of a larger plan by Google to completely eliminate third-party cookie support in Chrome over the next year.
Why Google Is Blocking Third-Party Cookies
For over 30 years, third-party cookies have been a core technology that digital marketers and publishers have relied on to track users across the web and target ads based on their browsing behavior. However, concerns around privacy and data collection have grown considerably in recent years.
Third-party cookies are set by domains outside the one you are visiting in order to remember your visits across multiple sites. Many users feel uncomfortable with so many companies tracking their web history and using it to serve targeted ads without their explicit consent.
Google wants Chrome to set a new standard for user privacy among web browsers. By turning off support for third-party cookies by default, Google aims to prevent unwanted tracking but still allow for relevant advertising and site analytics based on first-party data.
Timeline of Google’s Cookie Changes
|Google announces plan to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome within 2 years
|Testing begins on Privacy Sandbox features to replace cookies
|1% of Chrome users have third-party cookies blocked by default
|Third-party cookies completely phased out in Chrome
The Impact on the Digital Ecosystem
Blocking third-party cookies will force major changes throughout the digital advertising world. Google has been working with the ad industry on developing new Privacy Sandbox standards to support key use cases without third-party cookies, but solutions remain incomplete.
The initial 1% impact may be small, but it signals substantial disruptions to come for advertisers, publishers, and ad tech vendors. Key challenges they will face include:
User Tracking and Attribution
Without third-party cookies, the ability to track users across sites, measure ad conversions, and attribute sales to ad exposures will be severely limited. Solutions like conversion modeling and on-site metrics provide alternatives but lack the scale, accuracy and transparency of cookies.
Ad Targeting and Personalization
Data-driven ad targeting will need to rely more heavily on context rather than user identity. Advertisers may need to use more broad-based contextual signals or settle for lower returns. Publishers and ad platforms will be pressed to develop more privacy-centric ways to effectively personalize content.
Addressability for Programmatic Advertising
Much of programmatic advertising depends on cookie-based platforms to match users with relevant ads in real-time. New identifier solutions for things like interest groups show promise but adoption is still nascent. Programmatic ad spending may consolidate towards major walled gardens better positioned to leverage first-party data.
What Happens Next
The initial cohort seeing cookies blocked represents a small fraction of Chrome users. But as the default expands, the bite will grow much larger – third-party cookies are expected to be completely phased out in Chrome by mid 2024.
In the interim, marketers will be anxiously testing new attribution models and identity solutions in preparation for a future without third-party cookies. Ad tech vendors will battle to prove their relevance, with many likely to be consolidated or left behind.
Google appears committed to forging ahead despite some claims they are undermining competitors. But with Chrome holding 65% desktop browser market share globally, the seismic shift coming cannot be ignored. One thing is certain – the third-party cookie has finally crumbled, and digital advertising will never be quite the same.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.