Google has decided to delay the phasing out of third-party cookies in its Chrome browser until 2023, a year later than it had initially planned to.
Now, what are cookies? Cookies track the internet activity of users helping digital publishers design targeted advertising for each user. These are small files with a log of user info that advertisers employ to create more effective targeted advertising campaigns. Of course, first-party cookies are essential as they help websites remember users and retain information on their preferences.
Cookies help free online content like blogs and newspapers. As cookies can be used to track users on the net, they have always remained a questionable technology as far as privacy is concerned. These have already been blocked by Google’s major rivals like Mozilla, Apple, and Firefox. Banning cookies has helped improve the surfing experience of users and enhance privacy. However, since Google Chrome has the biggest user community, their ban will influence more users.
Let’s get deeper into this as we study the nitty-gritty of this move from Google.
Why the need for a delay?
According to Google, the decision to postpone the death of third-party cookies came due to the necessity to further communicate with various regulators, including CMA. After all, Google stands in a leading position across multiple markets: search, ads, and browsers. Thus, regulators fear that it might gain more power after it blocks third-party cookies. Why? Smaller advertising companies might struggle to compete even more than they do now.
On the one hand, this situation might be another reason for users to criticize the tech giants for not taking users’ privacy more seriously. However, there are many forces influencing Google’s decision. Hence, it becomes difficult to come up with a resolution suitable for all parties involved.
What Google Plans to Do
Google plans to implement another mechanism that will reduce how much information is shared with the users while still allowing targeted advertising. It is the Privacy Sandbox system. The new standard involves the introduction of the new concept of the Federated Learning of Cohorts or the “Floc.” With Floc in place, the browser shall put a user in a certain group or “flock” based on similar surfing habits that he shares with other users. Each of these flocks or groups will have a shared ID, which shall indicate their common interests to the advertisers.
Vinay Goel, privacy engineering director at Chrome, has opined in a blog that the phasing out has to occur at a “responsible pace.” He says that there should be enough time for public discussions about the possible right solutions. Also, the publishers and the advertising industry need enough time as well to migrate their services.
Reactions to Google’s Plans
Privacy Sandbox has come under the scrutiny of the European Union and the British regulator, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). To handle the probe being conducted in the UK, Google has made an offer that the country’s competition watchdog plays a role in overseeing how cookies are phased out. Google has also pledged that the watchdog will be given a 60-day notice before third-party cookies are removed. There’s also a promise that no discrimination against rival advertising digital companies shall be made.
According to Goel, Google aims to make the new technology available by 2022’s end, allowing developers to start adopting. Once that has happened, Google will phase out the third-party cookies in three months, with the end of 2023 being the deadline in keeping with the commitment made to the UK competition watchdog.
Goel also says that he feels the web community should join hands and develop certain open standards that help improve online privacy and give users more control over how their data is used as well as more transparency. Goel believes that privacy-preserving technologies can make sure that cookies aren’t replaced by other individual surfing tracking mechanisms while also discouraging the emergence of covert techniques like fingerprinting.
Users Have Other Options
Even though Google struggles to improve its browser, you do not have to wait around for the changes to come. As mentioned before, other browsers have implemented cookie-blocking and other privacy-oriented solutions. For instance, Mozilla Firefox also stops browser fingerprinting, which is a huge win for privacy.
Additionally, netizens can use a VPN to hide information about themselves and their activities. For one, a VPN will ensure that online services won’t be able to know your true location. And while it won’t block cookies, it can make your browsing experience more anonymous.
Internet surfing with no cookies will greatly improve the surfing experience of users. As cookies track surfers online, removing them shall enhance user privacy. While many of Google’s competitors have already taken the initiative to phase out cookies, Google, with its Chrome enjoying a 65% share of the global market, is all set to follow suit. The company appears to be on track to phase out cookies by 2023 and thereby adhere to its commitment.