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Advice on Google's announcement on new privacy tools & cookie controls

Technology By: James CoulsonMay 10, 2019

The death of the cookie is a prediction that has been around for some time. It's long been suspected that this fragile technology was on the way out, but its demise was slow as there were no real alternatives to replace it.

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These predictions only started to come to fruition when Apple released its first version of ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention) in late 2017. This was followed up in late 2018 with the much more restrictive ITP2.0, and later the ITP 2.1 and 2.2 updates over the last few months. These effectively make the 3rd party cookie obsolete in the Safari browser, and the iterative revisions cut down on any clever workarounds technology providers try to implement. Firefox released a version of its browser in January this year that again, effectively makes the 3rd party cookie redundant there too. These are big statements in the name of privacy, but as Safari and Firefox make up less than 20% of the UK desktop browser share, the impact was fairly limited. Google, with its Chrome browser owning 65% of the UK desktop browser share, would effectively dictate how much life the 3rd party cookie had in it.

For the last 6 months it has been mooted that Google would be releasing something similar to ITP, but no one was quite sure how restrictive it would be on the 3rd party cookie. At the Google I/O conference this week, they announced what they are going to do, and although it's less severe than many feared, the long term implications are significant. It's certainly not the full restrictive impact that Safari has implemented over the past few months. In effect Google are going to make it much easier for an end user to block 3rd party cookies if they wish. Developers will need to explicitly identify if their cookie is a cross site 3rd party cookie, making it easy for the user to block them. On the surface this doesn’t seem nearly as strict as the Safari stance, but its impact could still be widespread for two reasons: 

  1. It’s not a mandatory change, it gives the end user much more control over cookie blocking, which in turn means it’s unknown how much users will block. It’s likely that with the widespread negative press on user privacy that user uptake on this option will be high.
  2. In the same announcement Google also said that in this latest version of Chrome, it will also restrict the use of ‘fingerprinting’ to track users as an alternative to Cookies. On desktop fingerprinting is often lauded as a viable alternative to cookies, but this latest announcement restricts that option. 

As an advertiser, the opacity around the death of the cookie has only reduced marginally with this latest announcement, but it’s a very safe bet to say that this is an opening salvo by Google, and that the 3rd party cookie won't be around for that much longer. To mitigate the impact when it does hit there are a couple of steps you can do in the meantime:

  1. Get a comprehensive understanding of how much your technology is dependent on 3rd party cookies, or fingerprinting, as a way to track users.
  2. Ask your technology partners what their solution is for when 3rd party cookies or fingerprinting goes away.
  3. Make a concerted effort to build up 1st party user persistent identifiers (of course with the appropriate GDPR consent). In a post cookie world these are going to be key to user tracking, executing against your 1st Party data and effective marketing in the future.

Feel free to get in touch if you would like to explore this topic more.

 

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