Goodbye, Cookies? What Associations Should Know About Google’s Browser Shift

Google’s decision to transition away from third-party cookies is controversial and could bring a period of transition for digital advertising, observers say.

One of the most important tools for marketers looking to make an impact is getting pushed aside in the world’s most popular browser.

That’s right—the third-party cookie is getting a digital downgrade. And while the signs have been there for years—Apple’s Safari ditched cookies more than two years ago—the move by Google to follow suit with Chrome by 2022 feels even more significant, due to the browser’s dominance on the desktop.

The company announced the move this week as part of its Privacy Sandbox  initiative, a new strategy that aims to better balance data tracking with privacy considerations. At the same time as the cookie announcement, Google said it would also “freeze” the use of user-agent strings, a key way of tracking browser types, in Google Chrome.

In a blog post, Google said its goal is not simply to block cookies, but to provide an alternative that could give users more control.

“By undermining the business model of many ad-supported websites, blunt approaches to cookies encourage the use of opaque techniques such as fingerprinting (an invasive workaround to replace cookies), which can actually reduce user privacy and control,” Google’s Justin Schuh wrote. “We believe that we as a community can, and must, do better.”

For associations, this news is a mixed bag. The change offers more privacy for members but also promises a likely disruptive period of transition. A few considerations:

A more Google-centric web. As Digiday notes, the Privacy Sandbox initiative forces those that rely on advertising to play ball with Google. “Unsurprisingly, Google stands to profit the most from the death of the third-party cookie,” the site’s Seb Joseph explains. “In the absence of third-party cookies’ use with Chrome, the alternative for advertisers is to use Google’s first-party data within its own tools.” This could harm internal analytics work, as well as vendors that brands may use.

A push for alternatives. The primary trade groups representing the advertising industry—the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s)—are already asking Google to hold off on turning off cookies until proper alternatives exist. In a letter acquired by AdAge and signed by government relations executives at the two groups, ANA and 4A’s warned that the initiative “would threaten to substantially disrupt much of the infrastructure of today’s internet without providing any viable alternative, and it may choke off the economic oxygen from advertising that startups and emerging companies need to survive.”

A period of transition. While the news is dramatic, many adtech firms say they were expecting such a move by Google, and they’re likely to work in alternatives to cookies in the interim. “If anything, these changes to third-party cookies accelerate our efforts around these solutions and related initiatives, as well as underscore the importance of our neutrality and open approach,” said Scott Howe, CEO of the adtech firm LiveRamp, in a statement to CNBC. The result is that the dynamic of the digital advertising and analytics markets will shift significantly in the next few years.

(Vadym Petrochenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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