Google Postpones Cookie Day of Reckoning

Google announced it will delay its phase-out of cookies, which allow advertisers to track users across the Web, until mid- to late 2023. Google had previously said it would kill cookies by 2022.

The delay suggests Google is responding to widespread panic by publishers, advertisers, and ad tech companies about the difficulty of serving and measuring relevant ads on desktop without cookies.

“While Google does hold a tremendous amount of weight in the landscape, ultimately, Google’s ad business is dependent on brands and agencies spending … so my suspicion is this realization and outcry definitely was a motivating factor [in the delay],” said Paul Roberts, CEO and founder of Kubient.

The postponement also suggests Google is listening to the many entities who have cast doubt on the viability of its post-cookie, cohort-based tracking solution, FLoCs. Companies have said they are unsure FLoCs will work and that it is a power grab by Google, which will retain its unparalleled insight into consumer behavior while undercutting rivals’ access to that same information.

“Google has run into questions in Europe about whether its Privacy Sandbox and FLoC approach will disadvantage smaller players in the market,” said Greg Sterling, vice president of market insights at Uberall. “Google is also facing growing resistance from a range of third parties that includes Mozilla, WordPress, and Amazon. It was starting to look like FLoC would be compromised from the start.”

The resistance to FLoCs underscores that no one identity or tracking solution is likely to solve the digital advertising and measurement problem going forward. Rather, companies are likely to implement a range of solutions to understand their customers in a privacy-safe way and effectively target ads.

But make no mistake — the data privacy movement is still happening. “This continues to be a question of when, not if. The martech industry should use this additional time wisely,” said Alon Leibovich, CEO and co-founder of BrandTotal.

On mobile, which is increasingly more important than cookie-based desktop advertising, Apple, and to a lesser extent Google, have already rolled out privacy changes that make tracking without explicit consent much harder. What’s more, the end of cookies still appears imminent.

The upshot is that collecting consent-first data remains a business imperative — and one of which many in the industry have fallen short for decades.

I would point out, also, that businesses need not see privacy changes as a mere logistical headache or politically motivated inconvenience. Rather, moving to consent-first, transparently collected data is an opportunity to forge a closer relationship with the consumer, getting them to verify their information and tell businesses what ads they would like to receive based on what information.

If executed correctly, the next generation of digital ad solutions and data-driven business won’t just be more ethical but more effective, too.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018 and compiled the daily newsletter since 2016. Joe is a journalist who has written widely about technology, business, and politics. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.