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Google begins phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome

The search giant starts limiting cross-site tracking to respond to consumer privacy concerns, while aiming to preserve ad revenue and skirt pushback from U.K. regulators.

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Google is taking steps to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome.

The search giant on Thursday rolled out Tracking Protection to 1% of the browser's users as part of its Privacy Sandbox initiative to eliminate all third-party cookies by the second half of 2024.

Tracking Protection limits cross-site tracking by restricting website access to third-party cookies. Google first revealed in 2021 its plan to get rid of third-party cookies, shortly after the European Union began investigating Google's advertising operations.

Competitors also have moved to block third-party cookies: Apple on Safari in 2020, and Mozilla on Firefox in 2019. Google first unveiled Tracking Protection in December.

By phasing out third-party cookies and implementing Tracking Protection, Google hopes to respond to consumers' and regulators' privacy concerns, all while keeping ad revenue afloat and avoiding regulatory action from the United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority.

Digital commerce and generative AI

But some say Google's strategy for phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome is inadequate because it does not account for advances in marketing technology, such as generative AI.

"Google's efforts are not forward-looking enough," IDC analyst Gerry Murray said.

Google is moving to comply with regulatory requirements while sustaining ad revenue, but is not addressing the emergence of generative AI agents' effects on consumers, the demise of cross-domain tracking and the replication of consumer databases, he said.

"Generative AI agents will enable consumers to participate in digital marketplaces based on programmatic intent, " Murray said.

Google's biggest challenge will be figuring out how to financially uphold or replace digital ad revenue, he said.

"Therefore, GenAI agents are a hugely disruptive threat that may make another major player the dominant force in the next digital economy," Murray said.

He compared the balance between sellers and consumers to the stock market, in which both sides of the market "are equally capable of controlling the terms of their market participation."

Murray said future revenue will be based on commissions, rather than impressions.

"There are huge implications for everyone in the digital economy," he said.

CDPs part of the story

Google's planned deprecation of third-party cookies has spurred customer data platform deployment among marketers who want to make better use of first-party data they collect and own, said David Raab, founder of the CDP Institute. He estimated that half of organizations that buy digital advertising are not yet prepared for the post-cookie world.

In his organization's research, Raab said he has seen some novel applications of CDPs to power outbound advertising.

While Facebook's and Google's ad platforms don't reveal identities of the audience members to whom ads will be served, CDPs can order particular audience traits and limit ad spending to specific market segments -- and give much finer control to the users.

Google has planned for years to move on from the third-party cookie, but has appeared to back down because of threats from regulators. This week's Google Chrome testing shows that the vendor is finally ready to execute its plan later this year, Raab predicted.

"It's very much in [Google's] business interest to kill the cookie, so they're highly motivated to make it happen," Raab said. "They have to find a way to do it that keeps the regulators off their back, but the privacy issue gives them a valid excuse to do it. If they want to kill cookies, they can kill cookies.

"What went into effect today is really an indication of their seriousness," he added.

Mary Reines is a news writer covering customer experience and unified communications for TechTarget Editorial. Before TechTarget, Reines was arts editor at the Marblehead Reporter. Don Fluckinger covers digital experience management, end-user computing, CPUs and assorted other topics for TechTarget Editorial. Got a tip? Email him.

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