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Google Chrome pushes back plans to phase out third-party cookies. Here’s what it means for advertisers.

“It’s clear that the privacy technology of the open internet, including CTV, needs to evolve in a way that gives the consumer more control."

Google announced Thursday that it would delay plans to scrap third-party cookies from its Chrome browser until late 2023, two years later than previously anticipated.

“While there’s considerable progress with [the Privacy Sandbox] initiative, it’s become clear that more time is needed across the ecosystem to get this right,” Vinay Goel, privacy engineering director at Chrome, said in a blog post on the company’s website.

The move is likely to surprise many in the industry, though not everyone. Jeff Green, cofounder and CEO of The Trade Desk, said two years ago that he didn’t believe the search giant’s moves would eliminate relevant advertising. Cookies will be “replaced with something else that enables targeted advertising,” he previously told Adweek.

At the same time, however, he also noted that it would be short-sighted for the industry to ignore this opportunity to create an improved identity solution that is more advanced than cookies, consumer-centric and that works across advertising channels, including the fast-growing world of connected TV.

Other industry leaders agree. Andrew Casale, president and CEO of Index Exchange, tells The Current that since its inception, Privacy Sandbox has prompted more questions than answers. “Google has simply run out of time,” Casale says. “With the timing of the pandemic and Google's third-party deprecation path, this delay was inevitable. To be blunt, it was beyond optimistic.”

For agencies, Google’s decision provides time, says Jeff Roach, president and chief strategy officer at indie brand transformation agency SCS. “Google is giving agencies some relief in current planning for clients in 2021,” Roach tells The Current. “These changes are driving incredible innovation across ad tech while also providing new thinking for agencies around placement and performance.”

A better approach

The delay will give stakeholders across the industry more time to scale privacy-conscious approaches to addressability that provide long-lasting benefits. This includes Unified ID 2.0, which has received widespread support and is part of a broad, soon-to-be open-source industry collaboration. UID2 puts the consumer in the driver’s seat with their data, while also preserving the value exchange of relevant advertising for free content on the open internet. Industry leaders such as Publicis Groupe’s Epsilon, LiveRamp, Foursquare and Nielsen are among the dozens who have all backed the effort.

“It’s clear that the privacy technology of the open internet, including CTV, needs to evolve in a way that gives the consumer more control. Let’s build technology that is understandable, then let customers decide how they want to use it,” Dave Pickles, The Trade Desk CTO tells The Current. “With that approach, we can improve the consumer experience, while preserving the value exchange of relevant advertising for free content.”

Many industry leaders agree that the consumer must be placed at the center of any new identity approach. Travis Clinger, senior VP of addressability and ecosystem at LiveRamp, for instance, says the industry “should first recognize that putting people first means putting transparency first. When people trust a brand or publishers’ intentions, they are more willing to share their data and identity.”

And this may well be one of the reasons behind Google’s rethink. Their FloC trials, for example, have already been abandoned in certain markets where they don’t meet local consumer privacy standards. “Changing out the cookie is like ripping out the roadways in a major city,” Michael Connolly, cofounder and CEO of sell-side platform Sonobi, tells The Current on Google’s decision. “It will simply take more time to develop a real alternative that maintains a free and open internet, while also serving consumer privacy.”