Google Pushes Back Cookie Removal Plans to 2023

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Google Chrome users will have to wait until at least 2023 before third party cookies are blocked as part of the browser's Privacy Sandbox initiative.

Google had first disclosed its plans to block third party cookies, which advertisers and marketers use to track users, in August 2019. In January 2020, Google provided more details on the Privacy Sandbox effort with the company stating that it intended to have the cookie blocking technology in place within two years. Now it looks like the timeline for implementation will take a bit longer due to the complexity of the challenge.

"The Privacy Sandbox initiative aims to create web technologies that both protect people’s privacy online and give companies and developers the tools to build thriving digital businesses to keep the web open and accessible to everyone, now, and for the future," Vinay Goel, privacy engineering director for Google Chrome wrote in a blog post.

Addressing Regulatory Concerns in the UK

The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been investigating Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative since January of this year, when it launched a formal investigation.

As part of the investigation, Google has made a series of commitments to CMA and the industry at large about the Privacy Initiative process. A key commitment is that the effort will not provide any data advantage for Google's own advertising products.

"The CMA is concerned that Google’s Proposals, if implemented without the regulatory scrutiny and oversight provided for by the Proposed Commitments, would be likely amount to an abuse of a dominant position in the market for the supply of web browsers in the UK," the CMA stated.

Building Consensus for Cookie Removal

The effort to remove third-party cookies has involved multiple proposals for potential replacements for third-party cookies that provide more privacy assurance for web browser users. According to Goel, over 30 different proposals have been made, four of which are currently in some form of usability trial.

One of the technologies that Google is proposing to replace third-party cookies is FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), which privacy experts have widely criticized as failing to protect user privacy. The basic idea behind FLoC is that groups of users can be clustered together by interests, hiding individual users and providing a way for advertisers to reach an appropriate audience.

Google is now expecting that it will enter into what it refers to as Stage 1 in late 2022, providing APIs for third-party cookie replacement in Chrome. Stage 2 of the cookie removal process is now expected to begin in 2023, with Chrome removing support for third-party cookies.

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