Google is planning to announce new tools for Chrome that offer users more control over third party tracking cookies, according to the Wall Street Journal. The controls and default settings would be somewhat less “severe” than the anti-cookie tracking moves made by Safari and Firefox, which adopted default tracking protection.
Browser announcement to come at Google I/O. The WSJ’s sources expect the announcement to come at Google’s I/O developer conference in California, which starts tomorrow.
The article is framed in quasi-antitrust language, arguing that the move will help Google and potentially harm competitors such as Criteo. It asserts that tracking protection could significantly and negatively impact that part of the online marketing ecosystem that relies on third party cookies, providing Google with a “sizable advantage over online-advertising rivals.”
Anti-competitive or consumer-friendly? However, survey data make clear that consumers want more privacy protection and control over what happens to their personal data. As just one example, a 2019 NBC and the Wall Street Journal survey found that more than 90% of respondents believed tech companies should “get permission before sharing or selling access to a consumers personal information and online activity.”
In addition, since the rise of smartphones and the advent of mobile apps, cookies have been on the decline. Cookies aren’t compatible with mobile apps, which has given rise to alternatives such as Advertising IDs and location data as a “real-world behavior” cookie alternative.
Browser ID to replace cookies. Reportedly, Google has been working on on a “browser identifier—linked to everything a user does, which advertisers could see—that could be easily toggled on or off by users” for several years. According to the WSJ report, “Google [previously] trashed the plan because it required changing millions of lines of codes and potentially renegotiating thousands of outside agreements.” But it has clearly been revived if the report is accurate.
Coincidentally, Microsoft is also announcing that its new Chromium-based Edge browser will have new tracking controls for third party cookies. All of these moves come against the backdrop of a more privacy-sensitive environment with the CCPA set to take effect next year and the FTC contemplating a multi-billion dollar fine for Facebook’s privacy and personal data problems.
Why we should care. Chrome has a 63% market share globally and a 50% share in the U.S., according to StatCounter data. Depending on what Google announces it could be the nail in the cookie coffin — not unlike how Apple killed Flash. Marketers have been anticipating the end of cookies for some time.
Facebook-style “people-based” targeting is poised to take over from cookie-based behavioral targeting (and retargeting) if Google’s move comes to pass. However the transition will be rocky for some players and data providers. As access to data becomes more restricted, it will advantage those with first party data and could adversely impact smaller players, as the WSJ piece suggests.