Google executives demystify the end of third-party cookies for INMA members

By Shelley Seale


Austin, Texas, USA


What do news media publishers need to know about the Privacy Sandbox Initiative and the planned phase-out of third-party cookies in Google Chrome?

INMA members were treated to a just-in-time Webinar on Wednesday that addressed this issue, with special guests from Google: Barb Smith, global lead/Chrome and Web platform partnerships, and Chetna Bindra, group product manager/user trust and privacy.

Smith and Bindra clarified there was no immediate change to support for third-party cookies in Chrome, nor Google’s advertising products as of today. 

Barb Smith and Chetna Bindra from Google presented a Webinar for INMA members on Google's Privacy Sandbox Initiative, moderated by INMA Smart Data Initiative Lead Greg Piechota.
Barb Smith and Chetna Bindra from Google presented a Webinar for INMA members on Google's Privacy Sandbox Initiative, moderated by INMA Smart Data Initiative Lead Greg Piechota.

Googles goal is to make sure publishers know everything they need to know about the Privacy Sandbox Initiative, Smith said. The vision of the initiative is to improve privacy while supporting the publishers, advertisers, and user experiences that keep the Web healthy.

“From our perspective, we think this is the right thing for the Web, with the imperative to protect more privacy on the Web,” she said. 

The Google team believes this is best accomplished by looking at practices and technologies such as third-party cookies and covert tracking methods — and removing them. Additionally, Google intends to add privacy-protecting technologies that will ensure:

  • Relevant ads and content.

  • Measurement and attribution.

  • Fraud detection.

  • Federated login.

“We want to give news companies new solutions and tools so they can continue to build great experiences for users within the context of privacy,” Smith said.

The goals of the Privacy Sandbox are to prevent tracking, enable publishers to build privacy-protecting Web sites, and preserve the visibility of the open Web.
The goals of the Privacy Sandbox are to prevent tracking, enable publishers to build privacy-protecting Web sites, and preserve the visibility of the open Web.

Timeline for phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome

Smith shared the key milestones for phasing out third-party cookies in Google’s Web browser, Chrome:

  • Now through late 2022: Develop, test, and launch new technologies.

  • Late 2022: Key technologies launched in Chrome and early adoption.

  • Late 2022-mid 2023: Broad ecosystem adoption.

  • Mid-late 2023: Gradually phase out third-party cookies in Chrome.

“It’s become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to make sure we get this right,” she said. “That means allowing sufficient time for public discussion and incubation.”

Google also needs time to work with regulators and for companies to be able to adapt.

“A large part of the function of this timeline is to help implementers plan ahead,” Smith said. “In terms of publishers, some may also be implementers. We know some have their own ad tech or mar tech and implement directly. But even if you aren’t implementing directly, we hope this will give you a timeline to know when to expect your vendors to be implementing.”

The Privacy Sandbox timeline will be updated as tests are planned and executed.

“Our goal is that the next iteration will be an improvement on the first, and it will lead to a more productive round of utility testing across the Web,” Smith added.

Using the timeline, Chrome teams will be able to:

  • Share progress updates and information about the Privacy Sandbox Initiative.

  • Listen to publishers across various forums.

  • Work with the online advertising technology ecosystem that provides critical services to publishers.

Publishers will be able to:

  • Test APIs directly if they are an implementer (in-house adtech/martech).

  • Join vendor tests and ask their providers about their testing plans.

  • Join the public dialog when they have an opinion about API design and use cases.

“This work isn’t slowing,” Smith said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, and we do see publishers as core constituents in this work.” 

Privacy and advertising strategies

Next, Bindra shared how Google is thinking about the advertising industry as they consider privacy.

“We’re certainly seeing a decline, from a user perspective, in trust, concerns, and questions about how their personal identity and personal data are being used,” she said. 

Research shows 81% of Internet users say that in the past year, they have become more concerned with how companies are using their data. Businesses are also seeing a direct impact based on this lowered consumer trust, with 48% of their consumers having stopped buying or using a service from a company due to privacy concerns.

These ecosystem changes jeopardise the sustainability of the digital advertising ecosystem, and thus of a free and open Internet. 

“This really is a foundational shift that’s coming from users, and we’re seeing a lot of reactions from publishers, advertisers, marketers, and governments on how well they are navigating user trust with these shifting expectations,” Bindra said.

Businesses are thinking about reduced consumer trust and these shifts in privacy concerns. Google wants to move to something more durable that ensures publishers and advertisers can reach their audiences.

Rising user expectations for privacy has and continues to result in additional privacy regulations and restrictions on cookies and device identifiers. Regulatory and technology changes also come into play.

“We are very focused on looking at technologies, mechanisms, and behaviours that really are going to meet the rising user expectations,” Bindra said. “As an industry we are going to have to invent new technologies. From a Google Ads perspective, it's about digging in to see what we can do that really is different. We aren’t recreating things that look like third-party cookies.”

Digital ads ecosystem transformation

This shift will transform digital advertising, but Bindra said publishers should look at this more as an opportunity and an evolutionary change.

“We really think of this much more as: How does one take a step back and really have a fundamental shift?” she said.

Bindra compared it to other technology shifts, such as electric cars and solar energy. The goal for Google is to evolve the Internet to better respect user privacy and support a vibrant, thriving ecosystem.

“We continue to believe that, yes publishers need to be able to monetise their content; yes they need to find ways to safely be able to personalise advertising — that advertisers need to be able to reach audiences that are interested, as well as be able to measure those audiences effectively so they can decide on their budgets. And users need to be able to access ad-supported content.”

Bindra said Google views this user-first process as having three primary pillars:

  • Advanced security to protect user privacy.

  • User control to choose their own privacy settings.

  • Responsible treatment of personal user information.

Google intends to invest in privacy-protecting technologies such as:

  • First-party data solutions and infrastructure. First-party data is more durable than third-party. It’s highly accurate and data-rich. It allows publishers and marketers to gain better insights into their users and deliver better experiences.

  • Modeling, machine learning, and automation. This aggregates customer behaviour and contextual signals. A 2019 BCG study found there was a 35% campaign performance boost with machine learning-based technology.

  • Privacy-preserving APIs (the Privacy Sandbox) will form the foundation for Google’s own ad buying tools, and its sell-side tools will enable the usage of APIs by all ad tech companies by building support for FLoC (interest-based ads) and Fledge (remarketing).

A look at the timeline of the Privacy Sandbox Initiative.
A look at the timeline of the Privacy Sandbox Initiative.

“We really do believe that these investments are going to be critical when we think about our privacy-preserving strategies,” Bindra said. “They are a suite of proposals that we do believe will be able to address a variety of different use cases.”

Google is looking forward to testing out this suite of technologies and is very encouraged by their early results. They will also be integrated into Google Ads products so publishers and marketers have the ability to work across this new ecosystem.

“We really are very focused on not recreating the functionality of the cookie or the individual identifier, Bindra said. Our focus is to ensure that we are doing the right thing for users as well as for privacy. We are extremely optimistic that the solutions we are looking for and investing in will not track users across the Web, that we will meet the rising consumer expectations, and they will stand up to a lot of the restrictions we expect to keep coming.”

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About Shelley Seale

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