Cookies—the small files that can identify and track internet users—serve some useful purposes.
For example, cookies allow websites to remember you across sessions, keep your shopping cart full as your browse an online store, and save you having to log in every time you visit your social media site of choice.
Cookies also allow advertisers to track which websites consumers visit, build “profiles” about them and target them based on their browsing history.
But due to some upcoming browser changes, these more controversial cookie uses are likely to come to an end in the next few years—as Google begins the process of eliminating third-party cookies from Chrome.
Let’s consider a possible future for web cookies.
Cookies On Non-Chrome Browsers
- June 2017: Apple introduces Intelligent Tracking Prevention, a feature that prevents websites from using cookies in third-party contexts from 24 hours after they have been set.
- September 2019: Firefox blocks all third-party cookies by default.
- March 2020: Apple blocks all third-party cookies by default in Safari.
As you can see, Google is playing catch-up with Mozilla and Apple—and other, privacy-focused browsers, such as Brave and Epic—which blocked third-party some time ago.
However, because Chrome is by far the world’s most-used browser, Google’s changes will likely have a much greater impact on online advertising.
It’s not yet clear how browsers like Edge and Opera—which do not currently block third-party cookies by default—will respond to Chrome’s changes, and whether marketers will continue to be able to target using third-party cookies on these browsers.
Google’s Upcoming Chrome Changes
So what does Google have planned for Chrome, and how will it impact cookies?
You may be wondering why Google is cutting out its main tool for delivering targeted advertising. After all, advertising is Google’s raison d’être. So what is Google planning to replace cookies with?
Instead of third-party cookies, Google proposes that advertisers target consumers via the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). The FLoC proposals will enable advertisers to target groups of consumers that have been clustered according to their interests.
In addition to FLoC, there are other projects within the Privacy Sandbox that are relevant to cookies.
Under the SameSite project, web developers have had to label all third-party cookies with “SameSite=None” and “Secure” labels. Third-party cookies that did not include these labels have been treated as first-party cookies since February 2020.
Google is also proposing a system called “first-party sets”, whereby publishers can group sites together so that cross-domain cookies are still recognised between sites in the same set.
Under the first-party sets system, publishers with multiple domains can continue to seat cookies that operate across them, including brand domains (e.g. uber.com and ubereats.com), app domains (e.g. live.com and office.com), and location-based domains (e.g. google.pl and google.co.uk).
Finally, Google will gradually begin the process of “making third-party cookies obsolete”—a process the company initially aimed to complete by early 2022 (but that now looks a little ambitious).
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