Google announced last year that it is ending the use of third-party cookies in Chrome. The switch will happen in 2023.
That’s a lot of techno jargon. Let’s break down what that means.
By now, you’re likely aware of cookies because every website asks you to accept them. But what are they? They’re not chocolate chip goodness and sadly, you can’t eat them.
Without cookies, you couldn’t shop online either! They’re responsible for putting things and keeping things in your online shopping cart. They also store passwords, help with autofill, and with so many other things we’ve come to rely on.
A third-party cookie is a cookie that is stored under a different domain than you are currently visiting. It’s installing common data trackers like Google Analytics or Google Search Console on your business’s website, for example. If you don’t own it, it’s third-party to you.
While it may seem scary to know that what you’re doing online is stored, most of it isn’t seen by anyone. It’s all for an algorithm so curate better content for you. Advertisers, such as Helix House, use tracking cookies to make ads more relevant or more engaging to consumers. We don’t know anything about you other than if you clicked on the ad or not. This is the case for most advertisers. They’re simply a metric to know how well an ad is performing based on what Google Analytics, Facebook, or Search Console shows us.
Cookies like the ones we use can track your age, interests, and, depending on the platform, your income level. Don’t be scared by this — it’s how platforms such as Facebook cultivate your ad experience. Ad agencies can’t see your information. It’s how you get toothpaste ads after you search for toothpaste or why you (as a woman) see female clothing on Google instead of men.
Some cookies do compromise privacy — there is no ifs ands or buts about that. But not all cookies do and not all cookies are bad. Third party cookies are the same way — they’re just cookies not owned by the domain name (which are most cookies out there).
Basically, it’s all about your browsing habits and what you’re comfortable with. If you don’t care about getting relevant ads, saving passwords, or anything like that, you can disable cookies at any time and learn who to work around not having them when you’re browsing online.
Google disabling the use of third-party cookies simply means that Google will not allow non-Google cookies to be used on Chrome. This will not make online browsing totally private. As long as companies are allowed to track users across millions of sites, users’ privacy will remain compromised, even if those ad tech companies cannot set third-party cookies.
It also doesn’t mean that Google will stop collecting your data or will stop using your data to target ads.
What it does mean is that Google will stop selling web ads targeted to your browsing habits on Chrome. Google will still track and target users on mobile devices, and it will still target ads to users based on their behavior on its own platforms.
Basically, Google is changing their system. They’re implementing Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). Chrome will keep track of a user’s browsing habits across the web, and then place the user in various audiences based on those habits. You’re more anonymous this way — it will not collect and store the same private data as it did before. Think of it more as a profile built off interests, instead of one built off your name, email, and potential credit card information.
Apple’s Safari browser and Mozilla’s Firefox browser already block third party tracking cookies. Google is following suit as part of a larger Privacy Sandbox launched in August 2019 – a series of initiatives to develop standards that enhance your privacy on the web.
If you want to read Google’s full blog on it, you can find it here.
Ad agencies will still be able to track data the same way, but they will have to use Google-owned tracker and cookies to do so. It will be a hard switch for many in the industry and could severely limit tracking, at least in the short-term.
The digital advertising industry is constantly evolving with technology and new algorithms. This type of change, while huge, is not something that will destroy the industry. It’s a new challenge and ad agencies have time to adapt before the change occurs. They’ll need to find new metrics to track and new data to test, which isn’t abnormal for us.
Advertisers should test Google’s new Privacy Sandbox features early to familiarize themselves with API methods and provide feedback to aid in the development of alternatives that protect consumer privacy while also supporting an ads-based internet.