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Tech Matters: Google schedules the end of third-party cookies — What does it mean for you?

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | May 24, 2023

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Leslie Meredith

Google has finally scheduled the end of third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users for the first quarter of 2024. The move has been delayed several times since its announcement of its intention to eliminate this web tracking system in 2020, but this is the first time it has set a date. And while 1% is tiny, the no-third-party-cookie Chrome will roll out to all users in the second half of 2024.

Google’s initiative is called Privacy Sandbox, a reference to the siloing of user data within a particular website. Everything you click on while browsing a website is tracked and generates small text snippets. Some types of cookies are used by the owners of the websites and used to see which pages users are viewing, what content they click on, and in the case of an e-commerce site, what’s in a shopping cart. I’m sure you’ve experienced receiving a text that says, “Did you forget something?” after abandoning your cart without making a purchase. That’s powered by cookies. But that’s not the type of cookies Privacy Sandbox is targeting.

As its name suggests, Chrome will not allow third-party cookies that follow you from site to site to target you with advertising based on what you’ve viewed or bought. It will also block fingerprinting, a covert practice of creating a unique user profile based on their computer hardware, software, add-ons and preferences. The profile can then be used to track users across different websites, even when they use private browsing mode or clear their browser storage.

The move has huge implications for marketers. “I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say how big of a deal this initiative is, at least in the history of the web,” said Victor Wong, head of product for Google’s Private Advertising Technology. “So we’re taking a very deliberate approach based on the input of voices across the ecosystem, including developers, regulators, policymakers and advertisers.” Wong said he sees affected parties moving very quickly now that these deadlines are approaching.

However, this is not the end of targeted advertising. Google has come up with a number of solutions for advertisers that comply with its Privacy Sandbox requirements. The common thread is that internet users are grouped into categories rather than identified individually. In a recent blog post, Google gives this example: Analysis or machine learning systems may uncover that users who saw an ad about scuba gear, and bought it, very often have “Beaches & Islands” and “Fishing” topics associated with them. An ad tech solution could translate this insight into improved reach to users “in-market for scuba gear” by selecting users with those two topics. Here, advertisers could target a group of users who fell into this category.

You may be wondering about Do Not Track, a mechanism widely available to internet users for more than a decade. Do Not Track, or DNT, allowed users to send a signal to websites to not track their activity. Sadly, it was unenforceable and most websites chose to ignore the signal.

California, a strong advocate for consumer privacy, has put teeth behind Do Not Track. Its California Rights Act came into effect on Jan. 1 of this year and includes an amendment that gives consumers the right to opt out of cross-context behavioral advertising, aka ads generated by third-party cookies. They can do this in several ways, including opting out of this type of button with a simple click on a website.

So how will your experience — as a consumer — change with the elimination of third-party cookies? Certainly, you would enjoy more data privacy. You would also likely see fewer targeted ads. Understand, that doesn’t mean fewer ads, just not the ones that are based on your personal webviews. You might experience faster loading times on websites unburdened by these trackers and fewer auto-playing videos. It is also possible that websites would be less susceptible to malicious content, which means a safer web browsing experience.

On the other hand, if you’re a website owner and rely on third-party cookies to generate effective advertising, you may see traffic decrease to your website and revenue fall.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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