Starting this month, Google’s Privacy Sandbox trials will expand to millions of users globally

The Privacy Sandbox trial population experimenting with Chrome’s new privacy features will gradually increase throughout the rest of 2022 and into 2023. Before users are added into the trials, they will be shown a prompt giving them the option to manage their participation. To give the web community more time to test the new provisions, Google Chrome’s support for third-party cookies has been extended until 2024.

Anthony Chavez, Google VP in charge of Privacy Sandbox, said in a blog post they intend to begin phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome in the second half of 2024. The tech giant initially planned to discontinue this support this year, but the deadline was extended into 2023, and now has been extended into 2024.

What are cookies and how are they used in advertising?

A ‘cookie’ is a small file that is downloaded onto your computer when you visit a website. First-party cookies and third-party cookies differ in what kind of information they store, and which websites they store them from.

Topics to replace cookie tracking‘First party’ cookies collect information for the website you are directly visiting. These allow websites to remember settings and other useful information, as well as collect analytics about how their users interact with their websites. An example of first-party cookies are settings that a web browser can store for login information, meaning that you don’t have to sign in to a website each time you view a new page on it.

‘Third party’ cookies are created by domains other than the one a user is visiting. These are often used for advertising purposes. For example, if a user clicks on an ad on Facebook or Instagram, these advertising platforms have traditionally used third-party cookies to know what action the user took once on the advertiser’s website, and, for example, activate retargeting ads for users who add items to carts but don’t complete a purchase. More broadly, third party cookies allowed purchases and other conversions to be tied to particular advertising campaigns, empowering marketers to better optimise their campaigns.

While they are useful for digital marketing, cookies have come under scrutiny from privacy campaigners. Some browsers – like Firefox and Safari – have already created options to block third-party cookies or block them by default.

What does this extension mean for marketing?

Chrome is one of the most commonly used browsers, controlling 65% of the market share worldwide. The degradation of cookie support has major implications for digital marketing. When Chrome phases out third-party cookie support, almost nobody will be using a browser that supports them.

Retail shoppingWithout third-party cookies, digital marketers will have to find another way to identify customers who convert on their sites. The extension of Chrome’s third party cookie support means marketers and ad platforms have another year to potentially use them and the data they provide. However, third-party cookies will eventually be phased out by Chrome, and many users (in particular all iOS users) already face severe third-party cookies restrictions.

Google’s Chavez said the Privacy Sandbox API will be launched and generally available in Chrome on in Q3 2023. This means there could be further changes till that time, which adds further potential for uncertainty too.

What a future without cookies holds for digital marketing

While the era of prolific tracking cookies appears to be coming to an end, this doesn’t mean that tracking won’t be an option when it comes to digital marketing.

Businessman officeThe main way that advertisers can ensure that advertising platforms continue to receive the information they need to build relevant adverts is to setup server-to-server connections. This ensures the advertiser communicates directly with the various platforms about what valuable conversions have taken place on their site / app. If information is stopped from being shared via third-party cookies, customer information can still be tracked via an API link, in a privacy-conscious way (information is hashed, anonymized and subject to consent rules before being set).

Facebook’s server-to-server tracking, Conversion API, is the most established solution while Google Ads’ server tracking solution is more recent. Both can be implemented via Google Tag Manager, or a host of other integrations.

AccuraCast has helped hundreds of advertisers implement advanced tracking technologies, without waiting for third-party cookies to be deprecated. We strongly recommend you do this sooner rather than later.

Other strategies for digital marketers

Doubling down on first-party data that has been collected with consent can help marketers to map out user behaviour. It also comes with the benefit that competitors won’t have access to the same data! Online surveys, sign-up forms, newsletter subscriptions, and prize giveaways are just some of the ways to increase first-party data collection.

Mobile usersContextual advertising is another approach, particularly for upper-funnel goals. This approach focuses on the page that ads are placed on, rather than the user. Marketers position ads based on webpage content, expecting that users with certain collective attributes will visit that content.

And when it comes to PPC advertising, AI-based bidding can be a massive asset, identifying the keywords and trends that generate the most conversions and optimising your bids in real-time.

Lastly, there’s the earlier mentioned Privacy Sandbox initiative. Google had initially based its approach on Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoCs) and idea that it dropped earlier in the year, in favour of the idea of “Topics”. It may be that this latest idea needs further refining, and explains why the end of third-party cookies on Chrome has been pushed by another year.

Either way, marketers should implement server-side tracking sooner rather than later. The end (of cookies) is nigh, there should be no complacency from this one-year reprieve in terms of planning for future marketing strategies!