Google blinks first and delays Chrome’s plan to phase out support for third-party cookies until 2023, citing need to work with regulators
Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals have been delayed, with the search engine giant pointing to it having to work more closely with regulatory authorities, namely the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
Last week the CMA confirmed it was to take a leading role in Google’s efforts to remove third-party cookies on Chrome.
The CMA said that it had secured commitments from Google to address concerns about the removal of third-party cookies, with the CMA to take up a role in the design and development of Google’s Privacy Sandbox proposals to ensure they do not distort competition.
It comes after the CMA in January 2021 confirmed it had opened an investigation into Google’s proposals to remove third party cookies and other functionalities from its Chrome browser.
Google had unveiled its proposals as far back as May 2019.
Collectively, the changes are called the ‘Privacy Sandbox’ project, and will disable third party cookies on the Chrome browser and Chromium browser engine and replace them with a new set of tools for targeting advertising and other functionality that it says will protect consumers’ privacy to a greater extent.
Google is aiming to place people’s web browsing history on user’s personal devices, rather than on the servers of advertisers.
But advertisers and publishers are unhappy at the move and its potential impact on revenues.
The CMA received complaints from Marketers for an Open Web Limited, a group of newspaper publishers and technology companies, which alleged that, through the proposals, Google was abusing its dominant position.
Third-party cookies are trackers placed on websites to allow advertisers to follow users around the web, for instance displaying a product which the user viewed but did not purchase.
But Chrome is the biggest web browser in terms of market share, so Google’s removal of cookies is a big deal for advertisers.
Google earlier this year said it had made ‘promising’ progress in its efforts to remove third-party cookies from its Chrome browser
But now Google in a blog post has confirmed it is delaying blocking third-party cookies in Chrome until 2023.
“Today, we’re sharing the latest on the Privacy Sandbox initiative including a timeline for Chrome’s plan to phase out support for third-party cookies,” said Google. “While there’s considerable progress with this initiative, it’s become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right.”
“In order to do this, we need to move at a responsible pace,” it said. “This will allow sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services.”
“For Chrome, specifically, our goal is to have the key technologies deployed by late 2022 for the developer community to start adopting them,” said Google. “Subject to our engagement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and in line with the commitments we have offered, Chrome could then phase out third-party cookies over a three month period, starting in mid-2023 and ending in late 2023.”
“We believe that the Privacy Sandbox will provide the best privacy protections for everyone,” it concluded. “And because of the importance of this mission, we must take time to evaluate the new technologies, gather feedback and iterate to ensure they meet our goals for both privacy and performance, and give all developers time to follow the best path for privacy.”
Why not Apple?
The delay to the cookie removal has done little to ease the annoyance within the advertising industry at Google’s move, but the intervention of the CMA has been welcomed.
“Google has not only been consistently unclear about how the changes to third-party cookie processing should be handled by advertisers, but also seemed to be failing to provide a suitable solution for publishers on their Display Network, which is especially worrying given that Google Ads still accounts for the lion’s share of their business,” noted Farhad Divecha, MD and founder of digital marketing agency AccuraCast.
“Whether or not Google has taken heed of all of these concerns, we welcome this delay and only hope that it uses this time to consult with the CMA as well as different parties that will be affected by the changes, including advertisers, agencies, publishers and ad-tech & tracking solutions providers,” Divecha added.
“The changes Google was proposing, both with the introduction of FLoC and removal of cookies would definitely have disadvantaged competing solutions providers and suppliers of ad tech who don’t have as much data at their disposal as Google does,” said Divecha. “The CMA is right to call Google out on this, and I hope the end result is a fairer and more open environment for all providers.”
“One big question in my mind is why has the same not been done with Apple too – the way they’re handling prompts for their own products and tracking for their own ad ecosystem is different from what they’re offering others – this has been documented already,” said Divecha. “The CMA should be taking note and working with Apple to ensure that they too are held to the same standards to ensure fair competition.”
“I would also suggest that Google learn from Facebook, which has sensibly had its strategy planned out since last year, communicated it clearly, and gone to great lengths to prepare its advertisers for these changes,” said Divecha. “Millions of smaller businesses rely on Google for their livelihood, so these more at-risk businesses need clarity and direction from Google if they are to come out of this unscathed.”