Google's third-party cookie culling to begin in Q1 2024 ... for 1% of Chrome users

And in full swing starting Q3

Google has decided to kick third-party cookies out of its Chrome browser for one percent of users in early 2024, and to banish the web trackers entirely from Q3 of the same year.

Third-party cookies being the cookies that, when visiting one website, are created on your device and accessed by another website. The clever part is that an ad network or a social network embedding content on pages across the internet can thus track you what sort of things you're into as you surf from page to page, following your cookie, allowing ads and other services to be tailored to your interests.

The search and ads giant on Wednesday detailed its latest blueprint to disable those cookies, starting with one percent of Chrome Stable users in Q1. Chrome is estimated to have more than three billion users, meaning perhaps thirty million surfers could soon be third-party cookie-free.

Google doesn't share such numbers, and wouldn't confirm estimates, but told us Chrome user numbers are in the billions, and added: “From the start of 2024, you can expect to see an increased portion of Chrome users on your site with third-party cookies disabled even if you are not actively participating in the Chrome-facilitated testing."

Sundar Pichai’s search outfit has already conducted limited tests of its replacement of third-party cookies – Chrome's Privacy Sandbox.

One main component of the sandbox is an API called Topics: with this, websites can ask Chrome for a list of things the visitor is interested in, and serve tailored content or ads based on that. The list of interests is formed from your browsing history. Thus, rather than using third-party cookies to follow you around the web to see what you're into, sites and ad networks can just ask your browser direct.

We're told those sandbox tests have been under way for some time, and that the plan to implement it for one percent of Chrome users was decided after feedback from earlier testing.

The Q3 2024 deadline for full adoption of the Privacy Sandbox is conditional on any concerns raised by the UK's Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA), which continues to consider the technology.

The Chocolate Factory also offered several suggestions for website operators and developers to adapt to the accelerated change. Among them, Google recommends developers audit their site's current cookie usage, test for breakage if cookies are removed, and - most crucially - "migrate to the relevant web APIs," ie, get with the Privacy Sandbox program.

No cookies, but plenty of tracks

Privacy Sandbox, the alternative to tracking cookies, was made generally available in early September. Google says its API-driven nature makes it a great alternative to third-party tracking cookies, which are generally viewed as a privacy-eroding nuisance.

While the sandbox's APIs may be an improvement over third-party cookies, they still raise some privacy concerns, as we've previously reported.

Google’s approach has also been criticized for making the biz even more central to the web ad market.

"Privacy Sandbox removes the ability of website owners, agencies and marketers to target and measure their campaigns using their own combination of technologies in favor of a Google-provided solution," Movement for an Open Web cofounder James Roswell told us in May. Like the CMA, advertisers are worried they'll be forced into yet another Google monopoly.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, meanwhile, has recommended that Chrome users disable Privacy Sandbox, or just switch to Firefox or Safari, both of which have already killed support for third party cookies and aren't interested in supporting Privacy Sandbox.

The EFF takes particular umbrage with the aforementioned Topics API.

"Topics is still tracking your internet use for Google's behavioral advertising," EFF security and privacy activist Thorin Klosowski explained. ®

Editor's note: We're happy to clarify that the full-scale removal of support for third-party cookies in Chrome will begin from Q3 2024, not by that quarter as we reported earlier.

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