Why it matters: Google has long been working on an alternative to cookies that splits the difference between user privacy and advertising revenue. However, the company needs more time before fully replacing third-party cookies in Chrome. Fortunately, public testing of Google’s new initiative will begin soon.
On Tuesday, Google announced that it was pushing back its plans to eliminate third-party cookies in Chrome by two years, as the feature is not ready. However, users can start testing the alternative for themselves next month.
Cookies help advertisers track users and serve personalised ads, but they are unpopular because they can compromise users’ privacy. EU anti-cookie legislation is behind all those consent prompts seen on many websites. In 2020, Google announced it was working on a solution that would make third-party cookies obsolete, initially hoping to achieve this goal in two years. Although it missed that deadline, the company is not giving up.
Google’s Privacy Sandbox aims to create a set of standards to help advertisers deliver personalised ads without revealing users’ personal information. One of its components is trust tokens, which play a similar role to cookies but with encryption to mask a user’s identity. Privacy Sandbox incorporates many other technologies to keep ads relevant to users while limiting what advertisers know about them.
These tools appear on Google’s updated Privacy Sandbox roadmap. To date, all have begun pre-launch testing and original testing. The company has set general availability for the third quarter of 2023 and wants to phase out third-party cookies by the end of 2024. In February, Google revealed its intention to bring the system to Android in two years’ time, which is roughly in line with the company’s timeline for Chrome on desktops.
The stable branch of Chrome 104 will include the trial for desktop users when it launches in August. About half of Chrome Desktop beta users have already enabled it. Android users will get it with Chrome 105 stable in late August.
Google’s attempt to balance user privacy and advertisers’ desires contrasts with Apple, Firefox and Brave’s efforts to block tracking entirely. Google’s business depends on advertising, unlike Apple’s, and Google also believes that intransigent blocking drives advertisers to more covert methods such as fingerprinting. With the Privacy Sandbox, the company wants to block fingerprints while providing an alternative for advertisers.