Alphabet’s Google has once again delayed the switch off of third-party ad tracking cookies in its Chrome web browser.

This is now the third time that Google has delayed the removal of third-party cookies and comes as Google continues the gradual rollout of its controversial Chrome Privacy Sandbox initiative.

In January 2024 Google gave tens of millions of its Chrome browser users the option of switching off third-party cookies, after it had activated the system for a random one percent of those who use Chrome, or about 30 million people.

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Cookie switch off

Chrome as of December 2023 had a market share of about 64.7 percent according to Statcounter, making it by far the most popular browser, followed by Apple’s Safari with 18.6 percent, Microsoft’s Edge with 4.96 percent and Mozilla Firefox with 3.4 percent.

It should be noted that browsers such as Apple’s Safari or Mozilla’s Firefox have blocked third-party cookies for years now.

But this week Google announced on its Privacy Sandbox website, that it has once again delayed the removal of third-party cookies, which it blamed on feedback from the industry, the British competition regulator (the Competition and Markets Authority or CMA), as well as developers.

“We recognise that there are ongoing challenges related to reconciling divergent feedback from the industry, regulators and developers, and will continue to engage closely with the entire ecosystem,” said Google.

“It’s also critical that the CMA has sufficient time to review all evidence including results from industry tests, which the CMA has asked market participants to provide by the end of June,” it stated. “Given both of these significant considerations, we will not complete third-party cookie deprecation during the second half of Q4.”

“We remain committed to engaging closely with the CMA and ICO and we hope to conclude that process this year,” it added. “Assuming we can reach an agreement, we envision proceeding with third-party cookie deprecation starting early next year.”

CMA oversight

Google had unveiled its cookie proposals as far back as May 2019, in response to what it said was users wanting more privacy when they are browsing the web, including not being tracked across websites.

Collectively, Google’s changes are called the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project, and will disable third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine.

Google will instead replace these tracking cookies with a new set of tools for targetted advertising and other functionality that the search engine giant says will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent.

The UK’s CMA watchdog had in January 2021 opened an investigation into Google’s proposals to remove third party cookies, and then in June 2021, Google agreed to the CMA’s oversight of the process, after complaints from unhappy advertisers.

The CMA thus took up the role in the design and development of Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals to ensure they do not impede competition in digital advertising.

And Google agreed to not implement its plan without the CMA’s sign-off, and would apply the approved plan around the world.

In November 2021 Google had made fresh concessions to restrict its use of data from its Chrome browser, in order to address CMA concerns about its efforts to ban third-party cookies that advertisers use to track consumers.

But now Google has delayed the planned Q4 2024 switch off.

The decision comes just a day ahead of the CMA releasing its joint quarterly report on the matter with Google.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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