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The crumbling of third-party cookies delayed—AGAIN

Strategy / 8.10.22 / By Matthew Hardwick

Third-party cookies have been an invaluable data tracking and targeting tool for marketers throughout the digital era, and most professionals have yet to find a fitting replacement. So Google’s announcement on July 27th that the end of third-party cookies will be delayed until the second half of 2024 must come as a temporary relief for those in the industry. Companies now have more runway to familiarize themselves with Google’s new cookies alternative, Privacy Sandbox, which is scheduled to fully launch in Q3 of 2023. Not only that, but advertisers have a little more time to build out first-party data sets.

Why push back the inevitable?

Google has recently faced severe backlash from big players like Apple and Facebook, the latter claiming this transition could cost them more than $10 billion this year alone. Also at the forefront of the resistance are lawmakers in the U.S. and U.K. who believe that Google is strong-arming the ad-tech industry with a calculated move towards a cookie-free online environment. And yes, the pushback is coming from the same governments who emphasized and ratified user privacy laws and guidelines, which influenced Google’s plan to remove third-party cookies in the first place.

For Google, it truly seems to be a catch-22. Since the announcement of their plan back in 2020, Google has consistently acknowledged how important third-party cookies are to businesses and has been transparent about their intentions to responsibly ensure the transition has minimal impact on the digital advertising industry, which has ultimately led to their decision to postpone Cookiepocalypse.

Google has justified the delay by acknowledging that the previous timeline did not allow businesses to fully explore new options and prepare for the substantial transition. Constant feedback from developers has been another factor in their decision, as developers demand more time to make changes on their various ad-tech platforms and APIs in Privacy Sandbox before it’s ready to effectively take the place of third-party cookies. Any stakeholder on the web can participate in refinement trials currently happening. In fact, Google plans to expand its testing to millions of users in August 2022 and will use the input gained to make necessary changes to ensure that Privacy Sandbox is as beneficial as third-party cookies for the digital ecosystem.

The star of the show is Google’s cookie replacement, Topics. Topics compiles a user’s history from the previous three weeks and categorizes it into five “topics.” Three of these topics are selected and auctioned off to publishers and advertisers, and can be modified by the user to exclude any of 350 categories they do not wish to be associated with. This is an incredible privacy improvement because it deletes data older than three weeks periodically and does not involve external servers. To keep everyone informed of new developments, Google provides a quarterly Privacy Sandbox Feedback Report where readers can see feedback for Topics and other ad-tech in Privacy Sandbox that trial users have provided, along with Google’s responses. This is a great way to stay informed about the ever-changing development of Google’s ad-tech that will surely leave a mark come 2024.

Preparation for Cookiepocalypse

With the phase out of cookies being moved to 2024, the marketing industry has a little more time to gain its footing in a third-party-cookie-free world, but there’s no time to waste.

First-Party Cookie Data: First-party cookie data will become one of the main focuses of marketing strategy and targeting, so it’s important for companies to use this time to maximize first-party data set acquisition and build and optimize strong data infrastructures before third-party cookies are finished. First-party data is efficient, reliable and can be a less expensive way to drive an effective and personalized marketing strategy.

Contextual Targeting: Contextual targeting is making a comeback! This type of targeting changes focus from users and their behavior to website content to ensure that ads are being placed on relevant sites with appropriate audiences. It’s relatively simple and eliminates the need for user-specific data tracking, not to mention mitigates the user privacy issue, which is extremely important to many people nowadays. This will likely be the publishers’ main play, with their ability to capture audience data being hindered by third-party cookie policy.

Content Marketing: Content marketing is a powerful strategy that promotes meaningful and relevant content to an audience. Helpful and relatable content can boost engagement and build relationships with audiences without being affected by government restrictions or intense changes like Cookiepocalypse.

Privacy Sandbox Beta Testing: As Google transitions to Privacy Sandbox, it could be beneficial for your company to participate in the Privacy Sandbox initiative. Exploring new ad-tech like Topics can go a long way in minimizing strain on your business when the transition finally takes place. Testing the beta model also provides you with the opportunity to give constructive feedback to highlight potential issues in the platform during the early stages of Privacy Sandbox.

Although Google keeps prolonging it, the transition is inevitable. Everyone now has more time to adapt to new alternatives like Privacy Sandbox, so it’s imperative to create a plan for what your business looks like in a future without third-party cookies.

If you’re looking for guidance in formulating a path forward, reach out to our ad-tech experts here at DS+CO today.


Matthew Hardwick

Media Coordinator