Google recently announced plans to block third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022. It hopes to replace cookies with a new “Privacy Sandbox” that can support targeted advertising without violating users’ personal info, though advertisers, regulators, and privacy advocates are skeptical. Now, Google is delaying its cookie-crumbling scheme until 2023 to help ensure the plan’s success.
Most web browsers, including Safari, Firefox, Opera, and Brave, block some third-party cookies by default. But Chrome is the biggest browser on Earth. If it were to block all tracking cookies today, it would send several businesses into the ground, including ad-supported websites.
Such an earth-shattering change would lead to anti-trust claims and regulatory action. It could also force advertisers to find new, and likely more, invasive ways to track people. That’s why Google wants to replace third-party cookies with its Privacy Sandbox, featuring FLoC, a machine-learning algorithm that creates anonymous advertising groups instead of aggressively tracking peoples’ web activity.
Here’s the problem—nobody’s on board with the Privacy Sandbox or FLoC algorithm. Microsoft, Mozilla, Brave, Amazon, the EFF, and other industry leaders have publicly rejected the technology, and regulatory bodies in the UK and EU are concerned that such a transition would only increase Google’s advertising monopoly and jeopardize web-oriented businesses (not just advertisers).
Here’s what Google says in its announcement:
This [the delay] will allow sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services. This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content.
Google is clearly juggling a lot of problems here. People will continue to criticize the company if it doesn’t block third-party cookies in Chrome, but it can’t do so without creating a less harmful, more transparent alternative. Until businesses and regulators are on board with FLoC (or another algorithm), plans to block tracking cookies are stuck in limbo.
So despite what some outlets are reporting, this delay isn’t just to avoid anti-trust claims or make advertisers happy. Google wants more time to facilitate public and private discussion so that industry leaders will actually follow its Privacy Sandbox initiative.
It’s worth mentioning that FLoC has some major flaws (there’s a reason why so many groups oppose it). As Mozilla points out in its Privacy Analysis of FLoC, the algorithm creates several opportunities for advertisers to invade our personal lives and create detailed profiles of our interests and activities.
If Google is forced to listen to the concerns of Mozilla, privacy advocates, and regulators, then we might end up with a better version of FLoC than what Google initially planned (at least from a privacy perspective). But there’s also a chance that FLoC never becomes the cookie replacement that it’s built to be. Hey, maybe that’s a good thing. We’ll just have to wait and see.