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June 24, 2024

Google Begins Blocking Third-Party Cookies in Chrome, Ushering in New Era of Privacy

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Jan 5, 2024

Google has begun the process of blocking third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, a move that will have major implications for online privacy, the advertising industry, and publishers. The change impacts about 1% of global Chrome users starting on January 5th, 2024, with plans to expand to all users by the end of the year.

What Are Third-Party Cookies and Why Does This Matter?

Cookies are small text files that websites place on a user’s browser to store information and preferences. First-party cookies are set by the site the user is visiting, while third-party cookies come from other sites that run code or serve ads on that site.

Third-party cookies have been used for decades by advertisers and tech companies to track users across the web in order to serve targeted ads and measure engagement. However, they’ve also raised significant privacy concerns due to this persistent tracking.

By blocking third-party cookies by default in Chrome, Google aims to improve user privacy and prompt the digital advertising industry to adopt alternative privacy-focused technologies. However, this change also stands to weaken the dominance of major ad tech players like Google and reshape the economics of online media.

The Path to Phasing Out Third-Party Cookie Tracking

Privacy advocates have been calling for an end to third-party cookie tracking for years. Below is a timeline of key events leading up to Google’s plan to phase them out of Chrome:

Date Event
2009 “Do Not Track” browser setting introduced to opt out of tracking
2019 Google announces plan to phase out third-party cookies within 2 years
2020 Delayed plans due to pandemic; commits to not build tracking tech into proposed Privacy Sandbox
2022 Begins testing Privacy Sandbox ad tools as cookie alternatives
2023 Confirms Chrome will fully block third-party cookies by end of 2024
January 2024 Starts disabling third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users

Google is testing a number of technologies through its Privacy Sandbox initiative to replace cookie tracking while still enabling effective web ads and analytics. However, these tools face skepticism regarding whether they will limit Google’s own data collection powers.

The company emphasized these initial cookie restrictions impact a small percentage of real-world Chrome usage. They intend to monitor for issues before expanding to more users over the next 12 months.

Early Impacts and Outlook for Advertising Industry

Even in these early stages, Google disabling third-party cookies is sending shockwaves through the digital marketing and publishing sectors.

The ease of targeted advertising and attribution based on cookies has driven much of the growth in online advertising over the past decade. While alternative user-level targeting approaches exist, they may be less precise or require adoption of new technology stacks.

Industry analysts project that the loss of cookies could result in a 60% drop in targeted display ad efficiency. Advertisers will need to recalibrate their spending and performance measurement approaches across channels.

Additionally, many publishers have relied heavily on cookie data to understand their audiences, personalize content, and demonstrate value to advertisers. Without this capability, website visitor data may become fractured or biased towards logged in users.

However, other experts argue that the third-party cookie economy incentivized business practices that infringed on consumer privacy. Preventing covert tracking of all users across websites may spur more transparent and ethical data collection.

Over the long run, Privacy Sandbox tools could facilitate better-controlled data sharing, though major players like Google and Facebook will retain advantages in leveraging first-party user data.

Regardless of perspective, the disappearance of third-party cookies marks the end of an era for the modern digital marketing landscape. All players in the ecosystem will need to work quickly over 2024 to adapt to the new status quo.

What This Means for Chrome Users

For most Chrome users today, disabling third-party cookies will bring little noticeable change in browsing experience. Sites may load slightly faster without extraneous tracking resources.

Over time, users could see lower instances of eerily specific targeted ads following them across the web. However, ads aren’t going away, and contextual and first-party data targeting will still enable personalization.

A limited number of sites dependent on cookie tracking for functionality may break. For example, some single sign-on systems, shopping carts, or video players could malfunction. But most consumer sites should have contingency plans in place after years of preparation for this change.

Google will monitor impact metrics on this 1% sample group before continuing the rollout. Individuals can check if they are part of the initial cookie restrictions by typing chrome://settings/cookies in the address bar:

Cookie setting screenshot

Outside of potential site breakage, this move represents a major win for user privacy. Third-party cookies have enabled hidden surveillance of all web citizens for their entire online lives. Their demise closes a longstanding loophole tolerating unconsented tracking as the status quo.

However, some privacy experts say Google restricting cookies in Chrome is just an attempt to curb its competition in digital ads. The tech giant can still leverage immense first-party data from its popular web properties and Android mobile ecosystem. Users wishing to minimize data collection may want to consider alternate browsers like Firefox and DuckDuckGo that block hidden trackers by default.

What Happens Next

The year 2024 will bring substantial changes across the online landscape as third-party cookies meet their demise in Chrome. Expect ongoing debate regarding the merits of Google’s Privacy Sandbox offerings as they relate to targeted advertising capabilities, performance measurement, and actual user privacy.

Regulators will watch closely to ensure data access does not further consolidate with Google or other tech titans at the expense of consumer welfare. Marketers, publishers, and ad tech vendors of all sizes must re-evaluate their data pipelines and business models for survival in the cookieless era.

Amidst this turmoil, web users tired of being tracked at every turn can look forward to a modest but meaningful return of control over their digital footprints. The cookies may crumble, but the internet will go on.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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