Google ready to kick the cookie habit by Q3 2024, for real this time
As for privacy concerns about the Topics API? We'll get back to you
Google's delayed disposal of third-party cookies – data stored in web browsers for advertising and analytics, among other things – will kick off the third quarter of 2024.
The ad biz intends to press ahead with its Topics API for interest-based advertising, despite being told by the Technical Architecture Group (TAG) of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that the project "appears to maintain the status quo of inappropriate surveillance on the web."
In documents filed with the UK Competition and Markets Authority as part of its public commitment to play nice with rivals while it reconfigures the way online advertising works, Google provided an update [PDF] on the progress of its Privacy Sandbox – a set of code projects to reconcile targeted advertising with some lax notion of privacy.
"In Q3 2024, Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a two-month period," Adzilla promised in its report.
Previously, Google had intended to toss third-party cookies by the end of 2022. Then it was by the end of 2023. As of July, 2022, the target date had been pushed back to the second half of 2024.
Google announced its Privacy Sandbox back in 2019 and the plan has been to replace third-party cookies – which make it easy to track people online and create profiles of online behavior – with something less invasive.
Technologies being developed include:
- the Topics API, for collecting browsing history data to determine the browser user's interests;
- the FLEDGE API, for running an on-device ad auction based on the user's interests;
- the Attribution Reporting API, for measuring ad clicks;
- the Private State Tokens API, for fighting fraud without tracking;
- the First Party Sets API, for treating different domains owned by the same company as the same for browser security purposes; and others.
First Party Sets can be activated by setting a feature flag in Chrome 108 or later. Topics, FLEDGE, and the Attribution Reporting APIs are scheduled to be available in the third quarter of 2023.
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As far as the UK CMA is concerned, Google is complying with its commitments to report on the progress of its Privacy Sandbox proposals and to engage with the online community to address concerns.
In the case of Topics – which the W3C's TAG said gathers data in a way that's opaque and outside user control – Google suggests the alternative is paywalls and spurned advertisers giving users the finger by building digital fingerprints of their browsers to track them regardless of their wishes.
"We believe the benefit to users is that Topics support interest-based ads that keep the web free and open, and we also believe it significantly improves privacy compared to third-party cookies. Removing third-party cookies without viable alternatives may negatively impact publishers, and could lead to worse approaches which are less private, are not transparent, and are not realistically resettable or controlled by users," the search leviathan argued in its filing.
Google maintains many companies are interested in the Topics API and other Privacy Sandbox technologies, and insists that its ad tech tools can advance privacy while supporting an open web.
As for addressing the specific points raised by the W3C's TAG, Google says it will respond publicly – at some point. In the meantime, it considers the development of Topics more important.
"At this stage, since Google has received questions from the ecosystem about what this review may imply for the development and launch of the Topics API, we would like to reaffirm our plan to make it available in Chrome Stable this year," the ad biz said in its response.
"While Google appreciates the input of the W3C Technical Architecture Group, it considers it of paramount importance to continue the efforts to develop and test Topics in consultation with the CMA and the ecosystem."
The CMA in its update [PDF] on Google's compliance acknowledges the TAG review of Topics and says it's looking into the matter.
"We and the ICO [Information Commissioner's Office] are continuing to consider the potential impacts of the Topics API on privacy as well as market impacts, as set out in the Development and Implementation Criteria in the Commitments," the competition agency reported. ®