OK but really, are third-party cookies going to be gone from Google’s Chrome by the end of 2024?
As Google phases out third-party cookies in Chrome, the idea of them disappearing by the end of the year has become about as clear as a foggy day in London.
In fact, some ad executives are putting their money on cookies waving goodbye sometime in the first quarter of next year. They just can’t see it happening anytime before then, despite Google’s insistence that they will be gone before the year is done — especially not when the market considers that its alternative (the Privacy Sandbox) is looking nowhere near ready to pick up the slack.
These suspicions have been simmering for quite some time — Business Insider first raised the red flag back in November. Since then, these doubts have taken more shape, particularly after a month of tinkering with the Sandbox on that modest one percent of Chrome traffic stripped of cookies. That’s according to what marketers, publishers and ad tech vendors have openly shared with Digiday over this period, as well as a poll we conducted among Digiday+ Research respondents.
Just over half (56%) of the 121 marketing professionals who were surveyed over the last two weeks said they agree that Google will get rid of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser before the end of the year. Over a third (37%) disagreed — meaning they anticipate it happening at the absolute earliest in the first quarter of 2025. Only 7% of those surveyed admitted to being unsure either way.
We’ve broken down the responses further in these graphs. When you consider the responses together, it’s clear that a notable portion of the industry is increasingly skeptical about Google’s capacity to meet its self-imposed deadline.
And now, the U.K.’s Competitions and Markets Authority has cast more shadows over the Sandbox’s future. In its quarterly update on its ongoing investigation into whether the sandbox is anti-competitive, it’s abundantly clear — even if not explicitly stated — that the regulator still holds significant reservations about it.
Among these concerns is that the Sandbox seems to fall short in supporting all current ad tech use cases and business practices. It may also lack the interoperability seen in solutions relying on third-party cookies. This could lead to advertisers shifting their budgets away from the open display market and into the “walled gardens” owned by giants like Google, Meta or Amazon, all with extensive access to first-party data. And there’s an encore: The CMA wants stronger commitments from Google to collaborate with the industry on the Sandbox’s development after the final decision is made.
The scope and gravity of these concerns make it abundantly clear that the Sandbox is inadequately equipped, both in terms of its functionality and its impact on the market’s competitiveness, said James Rosewell, founder of the Movement for an Open Web (MOW) — a coalition of anonymous businesses and industry players.
And, well, he’s got a point.
Beyond a multitude of specific design flaws, the CMA has raised significant apprehensions about Google’s seemingly self-preferencing practices and the project’s long-term viability in terms of competition. If the industry wants to steer clear of any potential hiccups arising from this situation, now’s the time to heed the CMA’s call for additional feedback before Feb. 27. After which, the CMA will issue another update in April on those views and how subsequent discussions with Google have developed.
“This report is a major slap on the wrist for Google,” said Rosewell. “Underneath the diplomatic language lie at least 39 areas of significant regulatory concern that Google will need to address before third-party cookies can be removed. The CMA states that ‘Google cannot proceed with third-party cookie deprecation until our concerns are resolved’ and — although the CMA doesn’t say it explicitly — no sensible reader would believe that these problems can be overcome in the next few years.”
And this is where the crux of the matter lies.
Testing for the Sandbox is slowly inching toward a “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” state. It’s gotten so far that companies are crafting their own adjusted timelines.
Here’s a peek into the behind-the-scenes calculations driving many of those decisions: Google finds itself in a bit of a pickle when it comes to bidding adieu to third-party cookies in Chrome, all thanks to the CMA. They hold the sandbox’s fate in their hands. But before Google can pull the trigger, the CMA must give the green light, and that only happens after a thorough examination of all the fine print. Then comes the “cooling-off” period, stretching from a cautious 60 to an exhaustive 120 days. This is the CMA’s quiet time to dissect the details without the noise of Google’s ongoing changes.
It also leaves Google in a tight spot. If the CMA stretches it to the full 120 days, Google will have to kiss cookies goodbye by the end of September. Any later, and they’ll collide head-on with the holiday ad frenzy – something Google desperately wants to avoid. Betting on a cookie phase-out in early 2025 starts to look like a pretty safe wager.
“We’re looking at this situation as we need to have our testing done by the end of the year regardless of what Google does — and let’s face it, it’s more likely than not that it will [extend the deadline again],” said Goodway Group’s chief media officer Stephani Estes. “We’re firming up our plans to do that right now, but this is going to cover off the match rates with [cookie-less targeting solution] Passport One and figuring out where the gaps are that we need to close there as well as what we’re seeing with the Sandbox.”
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