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Google Cookie Phase Out Postponed Yet Again

Google, cookies

Google has once again delayed plans to eliminate third-party cookies on its Chrome browser.

The tech giant made that announcement Tuesday (April 23) evening, soon after a British regulator expressed concerns about Google’s proposed alternative to using cookies, known as the Privacy Sandbox.

Third-party cookies — pieces of software that track internet users as they browse — have been useful for advertisers, who employ them to create targeted ads and to gauge whether their marketing campaigns are working.

Google has been trying to phase these out to enhance user privacy. The company had planned to have this done by the middle of this year, though its timeline is dependent on it addressing concerns by the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The regulator has been investigating Google’s efforts, saying it was worried this could harm competition in the digital ad sector.

“We recognize that there are ongoing challenges related to reconciling divergent feedback from the industry, regulators and developers, and will continue to engage closely with the entire ecosystem,” Google said in a statement posted to its blog.

“It’s also critical that the CMA has sufficient time to review all evidence including results from industry tests, which the CMA has asked market participants to provide by the end of June. Given both of these significant considerations, we will not complete third-party cookie deprecation during the second half of Q4,” Google added. 

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that another British regulatory body — Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) — has expressed concerns that loopholes in the Privacy Sandbox framework could be exploited to track users and compromise their anonymity

Google said Tuesday it was committed to working with the ICO and CMA and hopes to conclude that process this year, opening the door to “proceeding with third-party cookie deprecation starting early next year.”

The company first announced its plans in 2020, targeting 2022 as its goal. But two years ago, Google pushed back the target date to this year as it prepared for an antitrust suit by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Earlier this year, Google began testing a new feature called Tracking Protection, which limits cross-site tracking by restricting website access to third-party cookies by default. 

The feature, a sort of precursor to the Privacy Sandbox, was initially rolled out to just 1% of Google Chrome users. The smaller scale was a way to let developers test their preparedness for “a web without third-party cookies,” said Anthony Chavez, the Google vice president overseeing the Sandbox project.