Google has now delayed its plan to block third-party tracking cookies from its Chrome browser until sometime in late 2023.
Marketers and advertisers are breathing a sigh of relief at the unexpected reprieve. Major ad tech stocks showed up immediately after the delay was announced.
Cookies are the small piece of code used on websites that allow browsers to identify and track users as they visit different websites. It allows advertisers to target users based on their behavior. That’s the reason you can shop for shoes one day and then see ads for shoes everywhere you go online for the next week.
The Original Plan
Google had originally announced that Chrome was going to ban cookies and prevent tracking by marketers and advertisers in 2022. Cookies are already blocked by Apple Safari and Microsoft Edge browsers, but the Google announcement was what sent shock waves through the advertising industry.
Google’s Chrome browser is the most popular way people go online. In March 2021, Chrome had a 67% market share worldwide — more than 6 times the next closest competitor, Safari — which posted a share of just 10%.
“While there’s considerable progress with this initiative, it’s become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right,” wrote Vinay Goel, Privacy Engineering Director at Chrome, via blog post.
While the move had been initially lauded by privacy advocates, it also raised antitrust concerns. For example, authorities in the UK are investigating where the move would hurt online ad competition since Google, through its ad network, would have an unfair advantage. Google’s ad network is widely used across the internet. Google would have access to first-party data from these networks, but it would no longer be available to third-parties for use.
Federated Learning of Cohorts
Google’s alternative to cookies included a proposal in its Privacy Sandbox to what it calls the Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC. Instead of tracking users with cookies and making them individually identifiable, Google proposed putting people into groups based on “similar browsing behaviors.” Advertisers would be able to target groups of people based on interests rather than individuals.
Privacy advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called FLoC a terrible idea. Rather than give users the option to choose what information is shared, the group says FLoC is just another way to track online behavior. They strongly objected.
“Users and advocates must reject FLoC and other misguided attempts to reinvent behavioral targeting. We implore Google to abandon FLoC and redirect its effort towards building a truly user-friendly Web,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation stated.
Google Delays Cookie Ban
Faced with criticism and further scrutiny, Google delayed the cookie ban and pushed it off more than a year later than it had originally planned.
Besides FLoC, Google says it has more than 30 proposals for other ways in key areas, such as ad measurement, relevant ad delivery, content delivery, and ad fraud. “For Chrome, specifically, our goal is to have the key technologies deployed by late 2022 for the developer community to start adopting them,” Goel said.