Google might have to delay its plan to kill tracking cookies until 2025, ad industry experts believe

  • There’s a growing ad industry theory that Google won’t be able to get rid of cookies until 2025.
  • The theory is based on a recent update from the regulator overseeing the process and industry testing.
  • Google said it’s still on track for its stated 2024 deadline.

There are growing rumors in the advertising industry that Google will not be able to eliminate third-party tracking cookies until at least 2025.

Third-party cookies are small files stored on a user’s device that advertisers use to track users across websites in order to target them with ads and measure the effectiveness of ad campaigns.

This would be the third postponement from Google’s original January 2020 deadline, when it said it would stop supporting third-party cookies in its Chrome browser “within two years” to make web browsing more secure for users. It has since postponed that plan twice to give the ad industry more time to prepare, but has repeatedly stated that the cookie expiry date will be in the fourth quarter of 2024.

However, based on a recent update from the regulatory body overseeing the cookie phase out process and conversations among companies that have been testing Google’s proposed cookie alternatives, some industry experts believe that won’t be possible.

Google is running out of time to develop cookieless technologies that won’t hamper competition

In recent years, Google and other companies have been testing new technologies within its so-called Privacy Sandbox that do not rely on cookies and are intended to protect user privacy while still providing adequate targeting and measurement capabilities.

Google cannot disable third-party cookies in Chrome until the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is satisfied that the Privacy Sandbox technologies are not anticompetitive.

In a recent update report, the CMA stated that it aims to collect all evidence about the likely impact of those changes “by the middle of 2024.” If the CMA approves the Privacy Sandbox technologies, there will be a “standstill period” of 60 to 120 days before Google can disable cookies.

Google has stated that it intends to gradually phase out cookies beginning in the third quarter of next year. To meet its deadline of ending cookie support entirely in 2024, it would have to turn off cookies by September 2024, according to James Rosewell, founder of device detection company 51Degrees. Rosewell is also a cofounder of the nonprofit group Movement for an Open Web, which has been vocal in its opposition to Google’s changes.

“It’s unlikely something of this magnitude would be approved in this timeframe,” Rosewell said.

Google would face intense scrutiny if it turned off cookies later than 2024, because it has stated that it would not do so during the busy holiday retail and advertising season.

“Publishers would generally be relieved to have cookies around for another holiday season from a pure operational and planning perspective,” said Achim Schlosser, chief technology officer of the European netID Foundation, which offers single sign-on and consent management products.

The CMA and Google have stated that they want to avoid further delays.

“Although the timeline for removal of third-party cookies has been set by Google, we are keen to ensure there are no further delays in the process, provided that our competition concerns are addressed,” according to a spokesperson for the CMA.

“We continue to move forward with our plans to phase out third-party cookies in H2 2024, and our commitments to the CMA have not changed,” a spokesperson for Google said.

Publishers, adtech companies, and privacy experts have concerns about Google’s latest proposals

Aside from the officially stated timelines, experts say there is still a lot of work to be done before Privacy Sandbox technologies pass muster with advertising technology companies and publishers — and thus be deemed competitive by the CMA.

“It’s a mess,” said one ad industry executive who requested anonymity in order to speak freely about the process. “The documentation is appalling. Nobody knows what or how to test.”

The latest Privacy Sandbox update from the CMA listed various constituents’ concerns about the proposals. Publishers have complained that one of Google’s ad-targeting proposals is too friendly to advertisers and may cost them money. Adtech firms are concerned about incurring additional costs in developing new transaction systems for buyers. Others are concerned that Google’s new method of handling user consent is designed to encourage consumers to opt in.

“If the date is not pushed, we are walking the industry off a cliff,” the executive continued.

A Google spokesperson said in a statement that the company is confident the industry will be able to transition away from cookies by 2024, based on the progress it has seen from companies such as Yahoo, Criteo, OpenX, and RTB House, which have indicated they have either begun testing or plan to do so in January.

“Of course companies’ readiness will depend on when they start preparing so we encourage everyone to start now to be ready for the transition off third-party cookies,” a spokesperson for Google said.

According to Paul Bannister, chief strategy officer of the publisher ad management company Raptive, Google is currently caught between a rock and a hard place. In recent months, the Google Ads and Chrome teams have increased their Privacy Sandbox efforts with the industry “100-fold” through marketing, meetings, appearances at events, building tech, releasing documentation, and offering grants to companies to open up engineering resources for testing, he said.

“They don’t want to lose face and delay it again, that’s bad,” Bannister went on to say. “They know that delaying it again relieves pressure on everyone else, and that’s the problem: people need to feel pressure.” “How do you close that gap?”

Despite some doubts that Google will meet its 2024 deadline, many in the advertising industry are eager to move past third-party cookies after nearly four years in limbo. According to a recent survey conducted by ID5, an adtech company that offers a cookie-alternative identifier solution, 70% of adtech professionals believe cookie deprivation is imminent.

“Whether this happens in Q3 2024, Q4 2024, or Q1 2025 is irrelevant,” said Mathieu Roche, CEO and cofounder of ID5.

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