• Tim Gray

Google is ending third party tracking cookies!

Google announced in January 2020 that it would eliminate third-party cookies from Chrome by 2022. The company promised to use those two years to come up with a more private alternative that users and advertisers (and Google) would be happy with. It’s rolled out some attempts since then, most notably the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).


All tracking cookies were scheduled to end by the end of 2020, but Google is now delaying its long-promised move to block third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by another year, citing the need to “move at a responsible pace” and “avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content.”


Make no mistake. This is ending at some point and you need to be prepared.


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Amid the scramble about what to do when Google does away with third party (3P) cookies in Chrome (the browser with 2/3 market share) and Apple does away with access to device identifiers on iOS, many of the same questions keep popping up from marketers — does it impair the ability to target individuals, does it increase ad fraud, does it make reporting on campaign outcomes impossible, etc. In response, there’s much misinformation swirling about work-arounds like fingerprinting, targeting FLoC’s of consumers (cohorts grouped by blackbox mechanisms), and the rise of ad fraud. But let’s take a closer look and dispel some of the disinformation being spread by ad tech companies to protect their current income streams.


Privacy

The moves by Google and Apple increase privacy for consumers. That’s a good thing, after years of wanton data collection by ad tech companies, violating consumers’ privacy without their knowledge, consent or recourse. Ad tech companies are all crying foul — that Google and Apple are abusing their monopolistic powers. That is true. But no other entities could force the changes necessary to actually increase the privacy of consumers. This increase of privacy is relative, not absolute, because Google still has lots of data on users who are constantly logged into free services like Gmail, YouTube, Android devices, etc. and Apple knows a lot about its users too.


The “Cookieless Future” is Bright and Grim

When all of the useless and harmful things built on 3P cookies go away, the associated costs go down and the effective business outcomes from digital marketing go back up. More specifically, when advertisers buy ads from real publishers with real human audiences, they will get better outcomes than hyper targeted ads shown on millions of long tail sites to bots, pretending to be various audiences. This will also reduce the need for privacy-invasive data collection and the extra costs of targeting parameters, audience segments, fraud detection, brand safety detection, etc.


The “cookieless future” is indeed bright — for advertisers, good publishers, and consumers. But it will be grim indeed for ad tech vendors that had been profiting off of privacy-invasive data collection from users, diverting ad revenue away from good publishers to themselves, and selling snake oil to advertisers.