Google plan Privacy Sandbox is set to replace third-party cookies with a privacy-focused approach. This new method allows users to manage their interests and groups them into cohorts based on similar browsing patterns. It marks a significant shift for the online advertising industry, as Google is about to make this change a reality after years of discussion and experimentation. Beginning in early 2024, Google will migrate 1% of Chrome users to the Privacy Sandbox and disable third-party cookies for them. The company reaffirms its commitment to completely phasing out third-party cookies by the second half of 2024.
Google is taking further steps towards the implementation of its Privacy Sandbox by making the relevance and measurement APIs available to all Chrome users with the launch of Chrome 115 in July. This move enables developers to easily test these APIs using live traffic. Google has stated that no major modifications are expected for the API following this release.
Although the deprecation of third-party cookies for only 1% of Chrome users may not seem significant, it plays a crucial role in helping developers evaluate their preparedness for the broader changes scheduled for late 2024. According to Victor Wong, the product lead for Private Advertising Technology within Privacy Sandbox at Google, this initial step allows developers to assess their real-world readiness. To facilitate this transition, developers will have the opportunity to simulate their readiness for third-party cookie deprecation starting in Q4 2023. During this period, they can test their solutions by migrating a configurable percentage of their users to Privacy Sandbox.
Google’s plan to deprecate third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users was developed in collaboration with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Victor Wong emphasized the close consultation and coordination with the CMA, stating that it is the most effective way to jointly test the solution with the industry. In Q4 2023, Google will assist in coordinating testing efforts, making the process more streamlined. By deprecating third-party cookies for 1% of users in Q1 2024, it will prompt the entire industry to actively engage in experimentation and testing.
With the introduction of Chrome 115, adtech developers will have the opportunity to test their solutions on a larger scale. This release will solidify Privacy Sandbox features such as Protected Audience, Attribution Reporting, and the Topics API, which will be locked in and ready for implementation. Adtech developers can leverage these features to ensure their solutions align with the evolving privacy landscape.
It is important to highlight that users currently have the option to enable Privacy Sandbox trials in Chrome. The APIs have been accessible for testing since the launch of the Chrome 101 beta. However, it is crucial to recognize that testing these APIs at scale is a significantly different scenario. Scaling up the testing allows for a more comprehensive evaluation of their effectiveness and impact in real-world scenarios.
According to Victor Wong, there is a growing demand for broader availability of the Privacy Sandbox for testing purposes. Currently, only a minority of users have access to the sandbox, which limits the extent of testing that can be done. However, Wong stated that Google does not have any immediate plans to increase the scale beyond 1% throughout 2023. Instead, when the decision is made to fully deprecate third-party cookies, Google intends to go directly from 1% to 100% without intermediary steps. Although there will be a gradual ramp-up, specific milestones between the 1% and 100% transition have not been planned.
Initially, Google had outlined a plan to phase out tracking cookies as early as 2022. However, the company subsequently adjusted this timeline in 2021 and again in 2022. These changes reflect the complexities and evolving nature of the process, as Google seeks to address various considerations and ensure a smooth transition for users, developers, and the advertising industry as a whole.
Victor Wong acknowledges the significance of Google’s initiative, stating that it is a major development in the history of the web. Google is adopting a deliberate approach, taking into account feedback from various stakeholders such as developers, regulators, policymakers, and advertisers. The company has extended the timeline based on input from partners who expressed the need for additional time to ensure thorough testing and adaptation. However, Wong also observes that as the deadlines approach, many actors in the ecosystem are beginning to make swift progress. In fact, he believes that some partners may already be prepared to make the switch to alternative solutions at present.
The Privacy Sandbox initiative by Google is not without controversy, as different browser vendors are pursuing alternative approaches to safeguard user privacy. Given the close scrutiny from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Google has pledged to adhere to a set of guidelines to prevent any self-preferencing practices that could give it an unfair advantage over competitors when implementing the Privacy Sandbox. However, it remains uncertain how other competitors in the industry will respond, as they do not appear to be enthusiastic about adopting the Privacy Sandbox. Consequently, the implications for the web advertising ecosystem as a whole are yet to be fully realized.