Google Keeps Dragging Its Feet: What You Need to Know About Its Plan To Remove Third-Party Cookies


Google made headlines when it first announced its plan to eliminate third-party cookies back in 2020. But fast forward a few years, and the timeline for this massive shift in online privacy has shifted - twice. It's now projected to happen "sometime” in 2024.

When it comes to reining in third-party cookies, Google is playing catch-up. Safari, Firefox, and Brave have been ahead of the game for years, with Safari taking the lead back in 2017. But make no mistake, when Google makes a move, it will have a massive impact. Chrome dominates the browser market with a staggering 65% share globally.

See image for: Browser Market Share Worldwide - January 2023

The burning question on every publisher’s mind: when will Google finally pull the trigger on third-party cookie elimination? And why keep pushing it off?

In this piece, we dive into the reasons behind Google's delay and make a bold prediction for what publishers can expect come 2024.

Google’s Privacy Stance

Google says that users need better privacy online. In a blog post, David Temkin, director of product management for ads privacy and trust at Google, said it will “join others in the ad tech industry who plan to replace third-party cookies with alternative user-level identifiers.” Additionally, Google will only use “privacy-preserving technologies” that rely on methods like anonymization or data aggregation.

Third-party cookies drive online advertising, but Google holds a powerful advantage. Most people don't realize this, but the tech giant uses email addresses as identifiers for advertising through tools like Google Signals and Enhanced Conversions. In truth, Google hasn't solely relied on third-party cookies since 2019, when Apple first cut them off on Safari browsers.

This edge is all thanks to Gmail's commanding 28% of the email provider market and Chrome and Android's dominance with 69% and 72% of the web browser and mobile OS markets, respectively.

Why Isn’t Google Acting?

The question remains, why is Google dragging its feet on disabling third-party cookies if they claim to value user privacy? The answer lies in two key factors: their ongoing development of the privacy sandbox and the recent antitrust lawsuit from the DOJ targeting their advertising business, marking their second such suit in just over two years.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox

It all began in 2021 with the launch of Google's Privacy Sandbox - a set of protocols and standards, many named after birds, that promised to revolutionize the industry by localizing user targeting within the browser rather than sharing raw data with ad networks. The industry was buzzing with excitement over Google's FLOC, FLEDGE, and TURTLEDOVE, which promised to replace third-party cookies entirely. Unfortunately, these solutions have yet to soar; Google even pulled the plug on FLOC last year. With another extension announced for the Privacy Sandbox's testing phase, the full implementation won't be ready until 2024's latter half.

Google's sluggish action to eliminate third-party cookies is rooted in its refusal to embrace conventional industry tracking techniques. Instead, they've put their faith in the "Federated Learning of Cohorts" approach, grouping users based on comparable browsing patterns and utilizing "cohort IDs" instead of individual user IDs for targeting. Despite the industry's adoption of solutions like Unified ID 2.0 or LiveRamp ATS, Google has stood firm in its commitment to forgo these tools in its advertising products.

The DOJ Sues Google, Again

On January 24, 2023, the DOJ revealed its plans to file a lawsuit against Google for violating the Sherman Act by monopolizing multiple digital advertising technology products. They claim that Google has a monopoly on essential technologies within the "ad tech stack" that is crucial for website publishers and advertisers to sell and purchase ads, respectively. According to the DOJ’s estimates, Google “pockets” more than 30% of the advertising dollars that flow through its digital advertising technology products.

Doug Melamed, a renowned scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School with prior experience in the Antitrust Division, calls this case one of the largest in anti-trust history; “In terms of the potential impact of the remedy, this could be a bigger case than Microsoft,” says Melamed.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco explains that Google's behavior over the past 15 years has had a detrimental impact, pushing out competitors, reducing competition, raising advertising costs, lowering revenue for publishers and content creators, stifling innovation, and hindering the flow of information and ideas.

Our Prediction for 2024

Despite Google's repeated delays in removing third-party cookies, we believe it will happen yet again in 2024. The lack of progress in integrating its privacy sandbox into ad products, combined with no publishers or advertisers even testing the solution, leaves us confident in this prediction. And when 2024 rolls around, Google will once again be caught off guard, unable to replace cookies with its privacy sandbox.

However, it's not just the integration issue. The new DOJ lawsuit against Google is set to be a long and intense battle, and we believe it will only lead to further delays on removing third-party cookies. In the midst of an ongoing privacy lawsuit, the last thing Google wants is to handicap advertisers' ability to target users or publishers' ability to earn revenue. So, buckle up for yet another round of cookie delays.

What should publishers do?

As the clock ticks down to Google's inevitable removal of third-party cookies. While we expect Google to hold off until after 2024, now is the time to get ahead of the game. To help you prepare, we've put together some expert recommendations. Don't wait for the cookie to crumble - take action now.

Start Gathering First-Party Data

If you're looking to take your data strategy to the next level, it's time to start prioritizing first-party data. By collecting information directly from your users, you have complete ownership and control over your data.

Compared to third-party cookie data, first-party data is often more accurate and tailored to your specific audience. Another key advantage of first-party data is that your competition doesn't have access to the same information. When you purchase third-party data, there's always a chance that your competitors are also using the same data.

Sounds excellent? Here are some ways to collect first-party data to help you get started:

  • online surveys
  • sign-up forms
  • newsletters
  • community polls
  • SMS answers
  • mobile notification responses
  • direct mail (offline post), etc.

Look Into Universal ID solutions like Live Ramp

Universal ID targeting has been a part of the ad tech landscape for some time, but with the impending death of third-party cookies, the industry is seeing a surge in the adoption of this innovative approach to user tracking. Leading players in advertising are stepping up to the plate, delivering cutting-edge solutions that can track users without compromising their privacy.

So What Is A Universal ID?

Universal IDs are revolutionizing the digital advertising world. They offer a single identifier that recognizes the user across the ecosystem, allowing information to be shared with approved partners while maintaining privacy. This new approach provides a way to create and share IDs with first-party information to benefit the entire industry, unlike third-party cookies.

Various companies offer Universal ID solutions; just look at the list below. The top two are LiveRamp Ramp ID and The Trade Desk Unified ID 2.0. Both technologies integrate third-party analytics, CRM (customer relationship management) data, and statistics stored offline to create IDs that promote optimal supply chain markets.

Intelligently Categorize Your Website

To optimize your content and target your audience more effectively, taking a page from the Forbes playbook is a smart move. By dividing your content into specific sections, such as lifestyle, business, entrepreneurship, investment, travel, and technology, you can better understand your users' interests and categorize them accordingly. Once you have this information, you can collect data on which sections are being read the most and use categories like cars, sports, finance, pets, and leisure to further refine your targeting strategy.

Concluding Remarks

As we witness the internet moving towards a cookie-free future, with Safari, Firefox, and Edge already ditching third-party cookies, it's only a matter of time before Google follows suit. Although it may still be a while before they fully join the cookie-less club, we recommend publishers start preparing now. This article provides a glimpse into Google's cookie removal timeline and innovative ways to bridge the tracking gap when it finally happens.

Eager to hear more about publisher analytics? Our platform helps publishers increase earnings and gain a deeper understanding of their audience and writers. If you're interested in learning more or just want to have a chat, hit the link and connect with our sales team.

This article was written by Nick Mishkin. In addition to covering the publisher industry, he teaches writers how to use ChatGPT. You can find more information on his Medium profile.

Article Resources

Author Bio Nick Mishkin is a content consultant with ten years of enterprise sales experience in the SaaS and online publishing industries. A graduate of an Ivy League University, he also holds a masters in behavioral economics from Reichman University. He has written for publications such as SeekingAlpha, MoneyGeek, Yahoo Finance, and NoCamels and teaches ChatGPT writing classes.

Image Courtesy of Taryn Elliott

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