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Google delays third-party 'Cookiepocalypse' until 2025

Google has yet again delayed the deprecation of third-party cookies. Marketers and advertisers now have until 2025 to remediate their ad tech.

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Google has delayed third-party cookie deprecation in the Chrome browser for the third time. Experts predict it won't happen again.

This week, Google put off its plan to fully eliminate cookies later this year -- a process it started in January by turning them off for 1% of Chrome users. By the end of the year, Google had planned to turn third-party cookies off for all.

The plan was predicated on satisfying the U.K.'s Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA's) technical concerns that deprecating third-party cookies would tilt competition too far in favor of Google Ads, its search advertising platform.

Google acknowledged that it couldn't meet its self-set deadline to go live with Privacy Sandbox, its alternative to third-party cookies. U.K. advertisers are testing it now and will provide feedback to the CMA by the end of June to analyze how it affects competition in the U.K. web-ad marketplace. Google even agreed to fund the testing.

"We remain committed to engaging closely with the CMA and [U.K. privacy regulator Information Commissioner's Office] and we hope to conclude that process this year," Google wrote in a Privacy Sandbox progress report to the CMA. "Assuming we can reach an agreement, we envision proceeding with third-party cookie deprecation starting early next year."

Privacy Sandbox is a set of APIs under development that offers Chrome users privacy controls while delivering finely targeted, anonymized audiences to advertisers with the help of AI. So far, it appears to work like the anonymized audience tools that many social media sites deploy.

Most marketers have moved away from third-party cookies in recent years and have replaced its function with different success metrics, with an emphasis on collecting first-party data, said Liz Miller, an analyst with Constellation Research.

Advertisers haven't progressed as far, and many of them aren't ready for the end of third-party cookies. The finer its market slice is segmented, the more affected the advertiser will be by the transition to Privacy Sandbox.

"If you are really, really focused on either programmatic or on very hyper-targeted advertising -- like, I don't just want to talk to 'Chardonnay moms' on Chrome, I want to talk to 'brunette Chardonnay moms,' -- if that's the segmentation you're working with, you're going to be a little nervous," Miller said.

But despite Google's track record of delaying the end of third-party cookies 100% of the time so far, Miller believes they will eventually go away.

"My gut says it's going to be delayed again, in increments, not indefinitely. I really do think Google just wants this to be done," Miller said.

The difference between first- and third-party cookies.

Conflicting agendas complicate cookie conclusion

Google is caught in a riptide between U.K. antitrust authorities and privacy regulators around the world.

The former contends that killing third-party cookies will make Google's massive search ad platform even more monolithic. The latter believes that third-party cookies deprive consumers of the right to be left alone or, worse yet, harvest and sell personal data to which advertisers aren't entitled.

Moreover, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), a consortium of advertisers and publishers, also heavily criticized Google's Privacy Sandbox. The IAB claimed that it is long on costs and short on features, such as the ability to create lookalike audiences and cross-device attribution and support, which would be able to show when the same individual changes devices while browsing a website -- for example, from smartphone to laptop.

While some of the IAB's language criticizing Google was "harsh," it is probably designed to provoke action, said Georgiana Haig, global strategy and partnerships director at MiQ, a company that designs programmatic campaigns for advertising clients.

The advertising consortium appears to have gotten what it wanted because Google's delay of third-party cookie deprecation helps advertisers get through the busy season of the fourth quarter and pushes into a less-busy period if it happens early next year.

As for the costs to switch technologies, it's too early to know, Haig said. But Google is an important ad platform for most of MiQ's campaigns. Clients are testing Privacy Sandbox with the expectation that they'll be using it next year.

The critical thing for companies that employ third-party cookies to understand is that the Privacy Sandbox is not a direct replacement for the cookie. It never was intended to be.

"Certainly, parts of the Privacy Sandbox have been designed on purpose to be more restrictive than third-party cookies, and I think that sometimes gets missed," Haig said.

"You're not meant to do cross-site tracking and follow leads across the web as we [are] used to. I think advertisers will come to terms with that," she said. "I think what's important now is -- with the additional time we have to use for testing -- being able to understand the differences in functionality as much as possible."

Don Fluckinger is a senior news writer for TechTarget Editorial. He covers customer experience, digital experience management and end-user computing. Got a tip? Email him.

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