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What You Need to Know About Google’s New Cookie Policy

Chelsea Iversen Feb. 13, 2020

On February 4, 2020, Google announced that publishers using the Chrome browser will be required to reveal how they collect third-party user cookies across the web. If not, Google has said it will delete those cookies.

Chrome has the largest user share in the market at 66.9 percent as of the end of January 2020, beating out Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox and Edge. Once again, Google’s domination is changing the standards for the entire internet. The tech giant’s most recent Chrome update adds to the momentum in favor of a more privacy-focused internet.

Real quick, what are cookies again?

Cookies are packets of information sent from websites to your computer to track your online behavior. Brands use them to see if and when and how often you’ve visited various ads, web pages and apps.

Why is this change happening?

Privacy has become a major concern for tech giants lately. Google, Apple and other technology leaders have been planning to create a more private-by-default web-browsing experience for some time, following public backlash after the 2016 election and the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal as well as GDPR and personal privacy laws being tackled by government bodies globally.

Notably, however, Apple’s Safari took steps in 2019 to limit cookies for the sake of user privacy, capturing roughly 52 percent of market share on mobile, and Google announced its goal to end cookies altogether by 2022. So, Google’s recent announcement is just one of many steps toward a cookie-free browsing experience.

Who does it impact?

The anti-cookie rollouts happening over the next two years, and the February 4 Chrome update, will impact us all. That means advertisers, publishers, marketers, web developers — anyone who buys or sells digital ads, processes user data or has a website with cookies.

What does Google’s update mean for my ads and website?

Developers and publishers will have to use Google’s SameSite protocol to reveal their cookie collection methods or their cookies won’t work on Chrome browsers. This will impact security and transparency of cookies in the short term. In the long term, advertisers will need to shift the way they see digital ads reaching consumers.

As for what you need to do now, this video from Google’s Chromium blog walks through a very development-dense explanation of how this applies to your website and cookies. Pay attention at the 2:18 mark for instructions to test your site and see which cookies you need to update per the SameSite update:

Additionally, check with your publishers to make sure they’re compliant with the new standards as well.

What’s going to happen next?

This is the first significant step in Google’s plan to phase out cookies altogether by 2022.

Google established its “Privacy Sandbox” in August 2019 as an alternative to cookies for advertisers. The Privacy Sandbox has a mission to “create a thriving web ecosystem that is respectful of users and private by default.”

Right now, the Privacy Sandbox is just a collection of categorized ideas for APIs that advertisers and web developers will eventually be able rely on to build a safer, more private internet. This an open source project, which means it is not proprietary, and it’s still being developed, which means there is no simple code for developers to plug in just yet. But since these APIs are being drawn up as an alternative to cookies, and cookies aren’t scheduled to be fully extinguished for two years, we have some time.

According to DigiDay, the five APIs that are being developed fall under the following categories:

  1. Trust API: similar functionality as CAPTCHA to prove the user is human
  2. Privacy budget API: a budgeted amount of data a website can use from users
  3. Conversion API: an alternative tracking tool for attribution
  4. Federated Learning of Cohorts: uses machine learning to understand anonymized user habits and behaviors
  5. PIGIN (private interest groups, including noise): anonymized tracking of groups thought to be associated with a particular user

These APIs effectively increase safety and anonymize user behaviors on their Chrome browsers so marketers can use them safely and without invading user privacy. The anonymization of data is what separates this new form of data collection from cookies.

Conclusions

One thing is for certain: Google has always, unabashedly, been focused on the user experience. (Find out much more on this in our course, The State of Search.) Marketers may be surprised, but they shouldn’t be. This is a move toward user privacy — something users have been demanding more of.

This month’s move toward making cookie data more transparent and safe is a step in that direction. And replacing cookies with the Privacy Sandbox open-source APIs will be Google’s way of giving users what they’re asking for — more privacy — without compromising advertisers’ abilities to reach their target audiences and understand consumer behaviors.

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