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May 26, 2024

Google Begins Phased Rollout of Third-Party Cookie Restrictions in Chrome

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Jan 5, 2024

Google has begun the process of restricting third-party cookie access in its Chrome browser, a move that will have major implications for digital advertising and website analytics. The rollout, which started on January 5th, 2024, impacts 1% of global Chrome users initially but will expand to more over the course of the next year, culminating in a near-total block of third-party cookies by late 2024.

What Are Third-Party Cookies and Why Is Google Restricting Them?

Cookies are small data files that websites store on a user’s browser in order to remember information about that user. First-party cookies are set by the site that a user directly visits, while third-party cookies come from other sites that run code or serve content on the pages that a user visits.

Third-party cookies have been heavily used over the past decades by digital marketers and ad tech companies to target ads, attribute actions to ads, and measure website traffic. However, they’ve also raised mounting privacy concerns due to allowing extensive tracking of users across the web without transparency or control.

While Google relies heavily on digital advertising revenue, it has positioned itself as a leader in privacy. Restricting third-party cookie access allows Google to limit covert tracking while still maintaining analytics and functionality through more privacy-preserving approaches detailed below.

Initial 1% Rollout Marks the Start of a Year-Long Plan

Chrome first announced its Privacy Sandbox initiative back in 2019 and, after delays, finally began the phased rollout of third-party cookie restrictions on January 5th, 2024. The initial launch disables these cookies for only 1% of global Chrome users.

Over the course of 2024, Google plans to expand the restrictions in gradual steps, building up to reaching nearly all consumers by late 2024. This intentionally gradual approach gives websites and advertisers time to migrate their tracking and targeting to alternative solutions sanctioned through Google’s Privacy Sandbox before third-party cookies are completely phased out.

Rollout Timeframe % of Users with 3rd-Party Cookie Restrictions
January 5, 2024 1%
During 2024 Ramping up steadily
Late 2024 Nearly 100%

MARKETING IMPLICATIONS: Short Term Workarounds Precede Big Shifts

The marketing, analytics, and advertising industries are bracing for significant impact from the loss of third-party cookie targeting and attribution. In the short term, marketers are expected to increase their usage of cookie workarounds and alternatives with privacy downsides, while accelerating adoption of newer privacy-centric alternatives rolling out through 2024.

With only 1% of Chrome users currently affected, there are still lots of short term workarounds for third-party cookie restrictions, including techniques like fingerprinting. However, within a year advertisers and site analytics will need to almost completely shift to alternatives centered around Google’s Privacy Sandbox. These alternative channel less data to third parties but introduce some replacement functionality via aggregated analytics and AI-driven targeting models.

Marketers will need to closely monitor these developments from Google while simultaneously adjusting their tactics and evaluating new partnership opportunities. Companies that help advertisers navigate this transition could see booming demand.

Why the Mixed Reaction from Advertisers and Publishers?

Google wields immense power over digital advertising, so major changes bring a mix of optimism and anxiety. Some praise efforts to improve privacy, but want to ensure tracking remains effective for key functions like fraud prevention and campaign management.

On the other hand, major advertisers like P&G had already been pulling back on targeting and embracing contextual advertising in brand-safe environments. For these brands, loss of cookies will have little impact as they invest further in privacy-first strategies.

Meanwhile, many publishers rely heavily on third party ad networks to fund free content access. Cookie loss may complicate reader analytics, but Google aims to provide additional aggregated data. Publishers describe planning for “Plan Z” while hoping replacement solutions prevent revenue loss.

Looking Ahead: Privacy Sandbox Alternatives Gain Traction

While the immediate impact will be minimal, Google’s pressure over the next year will push the industry toward major changes. Google is working closely with marketers, analytics companies, and ad tech vendors to improve and implement the suite of alternatives under its Privacy Sandbox initiative:

Topics API (FLoC replacement) – AI model infers user interests from browsing activity to target groups with relevant ads
Attribution Reporting API – Analyzes impact of ads on conversions for better optimization, using on-device machine learning without sharing personal data
FLEDGE – Proposal to serve relevant ads in a privacy-preserving way without excessive data collection

Google faces skepticism but wields the power to force adoption before shutting third-party cookies off almost entirely. If these alternatives reach scale, they promise to address core advertising and analytics needs while restricting the spread of individuals’ browsing data across the web.

The era of tracking users ubiquitously via cookies is coming to an end, but digital marketing and ad monetization show no signs of fading away. Expect 2024 to introduce growing pains yet bring positive momentum toward preserving functionality while respecting privacy.

AiBot

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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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