As of January 4th, 2024, Google has begun to disable third-party cookies for 1% of a randomly selected group of its Chrome user base. This follows in the footsteps of Firefox and Safari who have similar blockers in place, but with Chrome having the largest market share, the change will have a wide-reaching impact across the media landscape.
Google have been planning to phase out third-party cookies from Chrome for a while now and on 4th January they began rolling out their testing of Tracking Protection across 1% of users. Tracking Protection limits cross-site tracking by restricting third-party cookies by default, rather than users having to opt out manually. Whilst 1% of users have been added to this testing pool, the goal for Google is to phase out third-party cookies for everyone in the second half of 2024, subject to any competition concerns from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) who will be monitoring the test closely. The CMA will be taking into consideration the implications of Google’s solution on the wider industry to make sure it doesn’t solely benefit Google’s own ad business.
Brands’ Impact and Opportunity
For brands, this does mean that where third-party cookies have underpinned online tracking and some website functionality tools these will no longer work unless they have migrated to using newer alternative methodologies. Whilst, initially, 1% will be a small fraction of an advertiser’s site visitors, this will ramp up towards the end of the year. Therefore, clients need to prepare now to avoid potential drop-offs to measurement, frequency capping, targeting and retargeting the functionality that third-party cookies have been supporting.
Brands that proactively make the switch to newer solutions will benefit from improved measurability and performance, purely from preventing further ‘cookie loss’ but also recovering users previously lost from view due to similar Safari and Firefox initiatives, and across non-cookie environments like in-app and CTV. By utilising new methods to engage users, brands can re-position themselves as privacy-first. In this way, they can highlight their aims to respect users’ choices when it comes to their data, providing transparency and confidence around which data is being collected, and how it is being used and shared.
Prepped and Ready
Whilst we can’t say with certainty what will change and when (dates could be subject to delay once again) we are working with clients to onboard appropriate cookieless and first-party data solutions to future-proof client ad tech stacks and mitigate against any potential data loss. We’ve been informing clients of changes and new announcements as part of our agency comms to keep them aware of changes. More practically, we’ve been helping clients to integrate these new solutions directly or in collaboration with their tech and data teams.
In the background, we have been involved with leading industry discussions on the topic, including with Google, IAB UK, and other agencies to understand the impact and actions clients should be taking. IAB UK themselves have released a checklist that agencies and clients can use as a guide to assess risk around campaign analytics and ask vendors about their cookieless solutions to discover how fit for purpose they are.
Right now, clients should follow Google’s guidelines and make sure they are prepared for the upcoming changes by working with their agency and tech vendors to audit third-party cookie usage, test for site breakage if these are removed, and migrating to cookieless solutions as they become available. The industry will be keenly monitoring its rollout to ensure advertisers are still able to deliver measurable campaigns through the new cookieless tools and APIs that are available.