03 / 07 / 2021

Third-party cookies given extra time by Google


Andrew Chubb




Google recently announced it would continue to support third-party tracking cookies in its Google Chrome browser for two more years, with the plan now to completely phase out third-party cookies support by the end of 2023.

Browser cookies are considered third-party data, or user data that is obtained indirectly from users via browsers or websites. This third-party data can also be made available to be sold to other marketers, and there is a significant industry based around this concept. Browser cookies have been the primary way most advertisers target users online. With the potential of support for third-party cookies in browsers being entirely withdrawn means marketers are on the lookout for new solutions.

We have seen the introduction of new privacy legislation both at home and abroad, initiated by both browser vendors themselves and at government levels. These new rulings are being brought into effect to better protect users’ privacy, and are expected to bring about the death of the third-party tracking cookie. It’s worth noting that other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Apple’s Safari browsers already include options to block all third-party cookies, which gives the users the ability to opt-out of these marketing efforts.

It was predicted that these changes will have a massive impact on publishers, as much of the tech that is used to serve ads, uses third-party cookies to track and monitor performance. The rollout of the Privacy Sandbox has caused some integration headaches for vendors and considering the thousands of companies that would be impacted by the changes. It seems Google has opted to delay the depreciation of third-party cookies. While this news probably comes as a relief to publishers currently scrambling for a cookie-less alternative, it does mean that changes are on the horizon.

It’s an opportunity for many marketers to consider new ways to reach and engage with their audiences. One alternative might be to adopt more contextual ads. We are starting to see sites move to a membership or subscription platform, which will allow them to use their own (first-party) user data which they can use to group their audience into various cohorts which would then allow them to serve targeted ads to members without having to rely on third-party cookies.

Google has also introduced FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts) and although contentious, it provides an alternative to tracking cookies by using machine learning algorithms that analyse user data. This is then used to create cohorts of people based on the sites that each member of the cohort visits. This data is collected in the browser via an extension. This data can then be accessed via an API to be used to target ads to particular cohorts.

Hopefully, this delay and recent regulatory changes will drive new sets of advertising solutions and regulations that are beneficial to both marketers and consumers. But the overall message is clear; the clock is ticking. Consumers want transparency in how their data is used. Now is the time to start looking into solutions that keep your brand’s purpose in line with your consumer’s values.