Navigating the Future: Google's Cookie Phase-Out Begins
Tomorrow (Jan 4, 2024) is the day! Google will start testing its new Tracking Protection feature, which will eventually restrict website access to third-party cookies by default. It will roll out to a very small subset of Chrome users, specifically to one percent of users globally (30MM sounds like a big number, but it's only 1% of global Chrome users). Pending the outcome of the testing and approval (as detailed below), Google plans to phase out the use of third-party cookies for all users in the second half of 2024.
What and why are they testing?
Cookies are not only used to track browsing behavior, but have other uses such as keeping you logged into various websites, remembering what's in your shopping cart, etc. In an effort to ensure website functionality is not impacted, Google has developed alternatives (such as APIs) that developers can use in these instances. Thus, the reason for this initial testing period – is that developers can implement any updates necessary to maintain website functionality. Per Chrome Engineering Director Vinay Goel, "This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content."
During this test phase, if issues are detected by Chrome (i.e., interrupting or providing a poor user experience), a prompt will appear asking the user to temporarily re-enable third-party cookies for the site.
Why is Google blocking the use of third-party cookies?
They are the last of the big three to eliminate 3rd-party cookies. Safari (Apple) and Firefox (Mozilla) blocked the use of third-party cookies several years ago. However, when it comes to market share, Chrome (Google) is currently the leader (well over 60%), thus the reason for the regulation and conversation around the impact on the advertising industry.
This test is part of the Privacy Sandbox initiative, which has two main objectives:
- Slowly eliminate third-party cookies when new solutions are in place
- Reducing cross-site and cross-app tracking while maintaining free access to online content and services
What happens after testing?
Ultimately, the final decision of Google cookie elimination by the end of 2024 is dependent on addressing any lingering competition concerns from the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) (legally binding agreement in place to ensure this move does not raise competition concerns, and Google does not unfairly share data within its business to gain an advantage over competitors).Google is already in a lawsuit brought on by the DOJ "for monopolizing digital advertising technologies" (verdict expected early 2024), so there is even more importance surrounding the topic of competition.
Is the industry prepared?
In a recent poll shared at the Digiday Programmatic Summit, the digital marketing industry is at a 5 on a scale of 1-10 in preparedness for the elimination of third-party cookies (and only expected to be at a 7 by the end of 2024, after the cookie is eliminated). There was discussion on whether this will actually happen in 2024 due to delays in testing and final approvals.
That being said, The Moran Group is as prepared as possible with the information and technology currently available. We continue to emphasize the importance of utilizing first-party data for purposes of targeting and finding new audiences. Additionally, contextual targeting will become more valuable, providing the opportunity to target audiences while browsing relevant content.
At The Moran Group, we use a variety of targeting solutions to ensure we are reaching the right audience at the right time. While we currently use some third-party cookies, we also use first-party data, in addition to unified IDs and device IDs. Our programmatic solution, Amplifi, powered by The Trade Desk, has been a leader in developing an alternative solution to cookies. The Trade Desk created UID 2.0 (Unified ID), which has been widely adopted by industry leaders as a standard for cookie replacement.