An uncookie-free internet? Google takes action to remove third-party cookies

“Do you want to allow the use of cookies?” is a question that appears everywhere you go on the internet.

Personalized online advertising now relies heavily on data like where you click, where you spend time, what website you came from, and when you come back. This data is saved on your computer and phone’s browser.

But as consumers become more conscious of—and irritated with—the lack of data security, the pressure on browser manufacturers like Google is mounting, and many in the sector are predicting a so-called “cookie-less future”.

Google also intends to eliminate third-party cookies from its Chrome web browser this year, joining the likes of Apple and Firefox maker Mozilla in their efforts to do the same.

The company started off this year with a single step. According to the firm, as part of a trial, access to third-party cookies has been automatically blocked for about 1% of users of the random Chrome browser since January 4.

Google announced that these cookies will be totally removed in the second half of the year. This is a historic announcement for a tech business that is among the biggest advertising companies in the world.

But for the time being, the cookie banners that appear when a website is opened will still be there.

What’s altered in Chrome

To begin with, once more, what are cookies? These are little files that are stored by our web browsers on our connected devices to aid in memory.

Websites can use these files to identify their visitors because they frequently contain unique identifiers. These are necessary for browsers to remember a user’s login information or the items in a shopping cart.

But most all, cookies enable personalised advertising. Particularly contentious are third-party cookies, which are placed by embedded material from other websites rather than the viewed page itself.

They enable the creation of profiles for advertising purposes and the tracking of users across numerous pages by advertising service providers.

According to Lidia Schneck, Partner Manager at Google, “tracked at a very granular level across different websites by third-party providers,” thanks to third-party cookies.

In the future, this should be restricted using the so-called Privacy Sandbox so that advertising suppliers only obtain extremely minimal data about users’ interests “in order to prevent a user from being identified or recognised.”

For this reason, a number of applications have been created in collaboration with the industry. According to Google, third-party providers will no longer be able to monitor each Chrome user’s unique browsing behavior across various websites as of the end of the year.

Rather, the user’s visited websites will subsequently bear labels with broad advertising subjects such as “sports,” “travel,” or “pets.”

When asked, the browser communicates up to three advertising subjects that the user has seen over the previous three weeks with the advertising suppliers. It also keeps track of the user’s most popular topics locally on the end device.

The idea is to show relevant advertisements to users without letting the marketers know the exact websites they have visited. Users can view which advertising themes have been allocated to them in the Chrome settings and adjust them as needed.

Positive for Google, negative for users, claims the advertising sector

The planned elimination of third-party cookies has drawn criticism from the advertising sector, which claims that it benefits tech companies rather than individual consumers.

The Central Association of the German Advertising Industry (ZAW) Managing Director, Bernd Nauen, claims that this will enhance Google’s dominance in the advertising market rather than data protection.

Over time, consumers would suffer as a result. What it doesn’t entail, according to Nauen, is less Google tracking and data.

This is due to the fact that the majority of Google’s extensive data set is first-party data, which Google gathers via user logins, first-party cookies, and search queries.

According to Nauen, the elimination of cookies would result in extremely low usage of consumers seeing advertisements based on their assumed interests outside of Google services and a few other “mega platforms”.

“Going back to spam, pop-ups and excessive banner adverts on topics that put me off rather than interest me is certainly not the solution.”

The flexibility of the advertising sector should not be constrained by specific platforms that hold a dominant market share, claims the ZAW association.

The advertising sector demands that governments impose these regulations and that competition authorities closely monitor this progress.

Advocates for consumers are dubious

Digital privacy advocates, according to consumer protection specialist Florian Glatzner of Germany, have a different perspective and are generally against tracking and profiling for advertising purposes.

He contends that the issue is not exclusive to any one technology, such as third-party cookies, and that in certain situations, advertising is deliberately designed to prey on customer vulnerabilities. “This jeopardises the protection of personal data and privacy, enables manipulation and promotes discrimination.”
“Going back to spam, pop-ups and excessive banner adverts on topics that put me off rather than interest me is certainly not the solution.”

The flexibility of the advertising sector should not be constrained by specific platforms that hold a dominant market share, claims the ZAW association.

Additionally, it’s common for consumers to be unaware of the extent and implications of their agreement. “The online advertising market and the technologies behind it (such as the privacy sandbox) are too complex, too opaque and too difficult to control,” says Glatzner.

Glatzner contends that outright banning user tracking should be the preferred course of action, as opposed to hiding it behind a tech company’s solution.