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Marketers unfazed as Google delays cookie deprecation for third time

A hand uses a key to unlock a crumbling cookie.

Illustration by Dave Cole / Getty / The Current

Google has once again announced it will delay the full phaseout of third-party cookies from Chrome, from later this year to potentially early next year.

The news comes days after The Wall Street Journal reported that the Information Commisioner’s Office (ICO), the U.K.’s privacy regulator, was worried that Privacy Sandbox didn’t do enough to protect consumer privacy.

In a draft report, the ICO expressed concern that companies could still exploit gaps in Google’s tech to follow users across different sites. Google has already deprecated 1% of cookies in Chrome, which kicked off in the first quarter of this year.

Impact on marketers

Marketers have been preparing for the end of third-party cookies in Chrome with a focus on developing alternative identity strategies, which could include Google’s Privacy Sandbox. More than 60% of browser traffic still flows through Chrome.

“This delay should not be an excuse for the digital advertising industry to be complacent.”

Anthony Katsur, CEO, IAB Tech Lab

Overall, marketers are not surprised, as it’s the third time Google has decided to postpone the full deprecation, with several saying the latest delay will not impact their transition away from cookies.

“Our signal planning process relies on first-party data and interest and behavior-based data sets that will extend beyond the deprecation. This enables us to continue driving personalized creative while maintaining consumer anonymity,” says Freddy Dabaghi, managing director of activation at Crispin.

“I’m very pleased to see some checks and balances in place,” says Sara Owens, SVP of analytics at Media Matters. “In my mind though, nothing changes. Third-party cookies are already absent across much of the internet. This means marketers should still be adapting to a post-cookie internet."

Indeed, Anthony Katsur, CEO of the IAB Tech Lab, stresses that marketers should continue their efforts toward new identity solutions.

“This delay should not be an excuse for the digital advertising industry to be complacent,” Katsur tells The Current. “We must continue to innovate privacy-preserving addressability and measurement solutions while working with Chrome to improve upon the critical shortcomings of the Privacy Sandbox.”

That’s not only because Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox have long done away with cookies. New, more privacy-conscious identity solutions have emerged, from first-party data to retail data to alternative identifiers, and marketers are already embracing them.

The big picture

Google has been awaiting a decision from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on whether Privacy Sandbox, its cookie replacement, complies with the regulator’s privacy concerns. The ICO’s concern will be shared with the CMA as it considers whether to let Google proceed with the rollout.

The CMA has been concerned that Privacy Sandbox could unfairly advantage Google’s own advertising solutions — something the company denies — and further cement its dominant position in the industry.

That sentiment has been expressed across the industry. In February, IAB Tech Lab released a report identifying several flaws it saw in Privacy Sandbox. Google disputed the claims, saying that its solution isn’t meant to fully replace third-party cookies.

“There are significant gaps that remain in Privacy Sandbox,” said Andrew Baron, senior vice president at PubMatic, told The Wall Street Journal. “The Sandbox today should not go forward as is.”

More time for improvements

Many industry leaders say the latest delay will only allow them more time to test their solutions.

“Google’s error in timing this out is just more prep time gained for advertisers and agencies,” says Neil Sawhney, director of media at Pereira O’Dell. “Those who have already started shifting their efforts to be less reliant on cookies are only further ahead of the game and have more time to test and learn with their cookieless solutions.”

“Delays give brands the advantage of more time to build up more intelligence, and in the meantime, brands will continue to leverage any available data points to provide the most personalized and relevant experience for their customers,” says Julia Sebastian, EVP of operations at The Shipyard.

Likewise, Rajesh Midha, Ogilvy One’s president for North America, sees this pause a positive opportunity for advertisers. “This extra time allows brands to truly focus on building impactful one-to-one relationships with their customers,” he says. “Brands should use this window to design these relationships around a core principle: mutual value exchange.”

What happens next

Google has said it will apply any agreement it lands on with the CMA on a global scale. Regulators around the world are watching their British counterparts for indications of what comes next.

Allegedly, anticompetitive practices are also the subject of two landmark antitrust trials Google faces in the U.S. in the next 12 months. American regulators allege the company abused its dominance in ad tech to monopolize the digital ads market and undermine competition.

The U.K. regulator’s concerns and Google’s delay are the latest chapter in the ad industry’s reckoning with its reliance on the search giant.