Google is rolling back its cookie ban for Chrome again, until 2024

Google is rolling back its cookie ban for Chrome again, until 2024

Google is at it again postponement its big plans to stop your Chrome browser from tracking you. Its long-promised move to block third-party cookies will now begin in the second half of 2024 — at least. This is the second time the company has had to push back the deadline. Both times, the company blamed the delay on difficulties in finding a new way to track users that was still privacy-friendly.

Google’s business model likely also factored into the decision: It relies on third-party cookies for some of its lucrative advertising business and is a major player in the digital advertising ecosystem that will be disrupted by the change. So Google was never that eager to make it.

Third-party cookies are a number of advertising companies and data brokers that track you online. They can see what websites you go to and use that to build a profile of you and your interests – which is then used to target ads to you.

People who care about their online privacy generally don’t like being tracked in this way. Some browsers have responded to this by blocking third-party cookies and making their privacy bona fides a selling point. You can check Recode’s Guide to Browsers if you want to learn more, but Firefox, Brave and Apple’s Safari already block third-party cookies by default and have for some time. Chrome, by contrast, has dragged its heels to do the same. Now they are drawn to it even more.

Google published in January 2020 that it would eliminate third-party cookies from Chrome by 2022. The company promised to use those two years to come up with a more private alternative that would make users and advertisers (and Google) happy. Since then, some attempts have been made, first of all Federal Cohort Learning (FLoC).

The problem is that FLoC doesn’t completely stop tracking. Instead, it puts that tracking directly in Google’s hands: Chrome users’ Internet activity will be tracked through the browser itself, and then Google will group users into large groups based on their interests. Advertisers can then target groups rather than an individual. That’s supposed to keep users anonymous while still allowing advertisers to target them, but it also gives Google much more control over the information collected through it and advertising companies much less. Google was pretty enthusiastic about FLoC, but it wasn’t exactly popular with privacy experts, ad tech companies or regulators. The UK and European Union are investigating whether it violates their antitrust laws.

So Google—which, to be fair, has said all along that 2022 is a tentative date, not an absolute certainty— announced in June 2021 that it will take more time to implement a cookie ban.

“We have to move at a responsible pace,” the company said at the time blog post. “This will allow enough time for public debate on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to transition their services. This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers who support freely available content.”

That last sentence is key — it’s a reminder that your data is the currency of the “free” Internet.

Any company that trades in that currency will always find a way to collect it.

Google’s new timeline was the end of 2023, but on Wednesday the company announced that he would have to return it again. Google’s reasoning was that it still needed more time to find an acceptable replacement for cookies after other attempts like FloC failed.

“We now intend to begin phasing out third-party cookies in Chrome in the second half of 2024,” the company said in a post on Wednesday. That’s more than two years from now, and at least four and a half years since the company first announced it was working to phase out those cookies.

The length of time this has taken indicates either that removing third-party cookies is not a high priority for the company, or that they are so embedded in the online tracking ecosystem that it is very difficult to find an adequate replacement for them.

Chrome is the most popular browser on the market, and it’s also the only one run by a company with a significant advertising platform. Removing cookies and tracking will hurt Google. That’s not a factor for its rivals, which is why they’ve been quick to adopt anti-tracking tools, and Google is lagging behind until it finds a way to make tracking more comfortable.

Update, July 27, 2022, 2:25 p.m.: Updated to reflect that Google’s one-year delay is now two years, and tracking changes are now predicted for 2024.



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