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Google is finally deprecating 3rd party cookies. Are you ready? 

Google is finally deprecating 3rd party cookies long after their tech rivals Apple and Microsoft. But why now, and why has it taken them so long? Let’s dive into these changes and what they mean for your business. 

What are cookies?  

Cookies are small pieces of data sent to your browser by a website you visit. They can store all kinds of information depending on what the website is trying to track. 

1st party cookies 

The primary purpose of 1st party cookies is to enhance the user experience by remembering information such as login credentials, preferences and items in a shopping cart. Most businesses use 1st party cookies to track website activity with Google Analytics. 1st party cookies are generally considered less intrusive and more privacy-friendly than 3rd party cookies. 

3rd party cookies 

On the other hand, 3rd party tracking cookies are usually placed on the website by advertisers to see what interests you, what websites you’ve visited and serve you ads based on that information, even after you’ve exited the website. 

These advertising cookies provide tremendous value to businesses but raise ethical concerns when users don’t know what data is being shared or who it’s being shared with. 

3rd party cookie deprecation: How did we get here?

Over time, more and more cases of user data abuse emerged, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the world to rely even more heavily on online-only methods of communication. 

This led governments to act, passing privacy regulations, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and the Act on the Protection of Personal Information (APPI) in Japan. 

Tech platforms soon followed suit, with Microsoft and Apple implementing new policies to restrict user identifiers and cross-site tracking. Safari began blocking 3rd party cookies by default way back in 2017, and Firefox did so as part of their Enhanced Tracking Protection Feature in 2019.

What’s Google doing about it?

On January 4th 2024, Google Chrome began testing ‘Tracking Protection’, their new feature that blocks 3rd party cookies for 1% of Chrome users globally. Google has also introduced their Privacy Sandbox APIs to mitigate some of the issues caused by the loss of 3rd party cookies while remaining ‘privacy-safe’. The goal is to gradually roll this out for 100% of Chrome users in Q3 2024, but these dates are not 100% certain. 

Although Google is ‘confident’ in the APIs being available as planned, they are still working closely with the UK Competition and Markets Authority to ensure there’s no potential for the Privacy Sandbox to favour Google.

Google cookie deprecation 

In January 2021, the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) launched an investigation into suspected breaches of competition law under Chapter 2 of the Competition Act 1998. The investigation noted that by removing 3rd party cookies on Chrome and replacing them with Google-built Privacy Sandbox tools, they could be self-preferencing Google’s own ad tech providers and owned and operated ad inventory, giving themselves an unfair advantage in access to user tracking. 

Because of this, Google will need buy-in and approval from CMA for all advancements of the deprecation of 3rd party cookies to ensure they comply with the law. This could cause the phase-out to drag on until at least Q1 2025.

What does this mean for businesses?

For most businesses, day-to-day data collection methods will remain the same because 1st party cookies will continue as normal. The deprecation of 3rd party cookies will mainly impact advertisers that utilise 3rd party cookies for cross-site tracking and remarketing purposes. 

Companies have shifted to collecting and owning as much of their 1st party data as possible so they don’t have to rely as heavily on data collected by 3rd party sources. This could mean investing in a robust tagging infrastructure, providing value exchanges on-site, and, most importantly, being honest and transparent about what/how they’re collecting data and always giving users the option to opt-out. 

From an advertising perspective, platforms have been releasing platform-specific solutions to mitigate measurement loss, like Google’s Enhanced Conversion Tracking and Facebook’s Conversions API, but generally, advertisers will rely more on AI, conversion modelling and browser-specific solutions (like Privacy Sandbox APIs) to plug any potential gaps. 

Prepare your business for a cookieless future 

It’s been a long road, but the impending deprecation of Google 3rd party cookies marks a significant shift in the digital landscape, with far-reaching implications for online businesses, particularly advertisers. The emphasis is now on cultivating and leveraging 1st party data responsibly. Our dedicated Analytics team is working with clients to help them not only adapt but thrive in the cookieless future.

Take the first step towards a more privacy-conscious and effective digital strategy by chatting with us about cookieless solutions today. 

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