Google is delaying its plan to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome to mid-2023 amid pushback from regulators and the wider ad industry. The web giant first announced its Privacy Sandbox initiative in 2019 and the following year it revealed a 2022 implementation date.
As part of the sweeping changes, Google will effectively replace individual user tracking with group-based ad targeting. Others, including Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla, have already done so in their respective browsers. Though Google was keen to catch up — even testing its Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) tech on some users around the world in March — it's now slowing down the pace.
Today, Google admitted that it "needs more time across the ecosystem to get this right." Google now expects that it will completely replace third-party cookies over a three-month period by the end of 2023.
"In order to do this, we need to move at a responsible pace, allowing sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services," Vinay Goel, privacy engineering director, Google, said. "This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content."
Currently, Google is testing out four out of 30 Privacy Sandbox proposals in what it defines as "key areas" such as ad measurement, ad relevance and content and fraud detection. One of these trials was the aforementioned FLoC test, which Google says it is on track to complete in the coming weeks.
As part of a two-stage implementation process, Google plans to deploy these technologies in the form of APIs starting in late 2022. This first stage will last for nine months and give advertisers and publishers time to make the switch, the company said. The next step will mark the beginning of the end for third-party cookies starting in mid-2023.
Along the way, Google promised to partake in transparent discussions and incorporate feedback from external parties including web developers, advertisers, publishers and regulators. Competition watchdogs have made it clear to Google that they want to be briefed on the changes. The company has already bowed to the UK Competition and Market Authority's demands to oversee the ad tech overhaul. While multiple states in the US are investigating the changes as part of a broader antitrust lawsuit into Google's alleged abuse of power. Just this week, the European Commission launched its own wide-ranging competition probe to determine if Google uses its ad tools and user data to stymie smaller rivals.