The advertising industry is divided over Google's surprise reprieve for cookies, giving internet advertisers until 2023 to plan for a future without these pervasive web tracking tools.
On one hand, major brands and ad agencies are worried that Google's decision to delay blocking cookies exposes the flaws in its strategy and puts advertisers in a tough spot responding to legitimate privacy and data security concerns. On the other hand, many ad tech companies welcome the extra time to test alternatives to cookies.
On Thursday, Google made the call that it would slow down its timeline to phase out cookies, which are trackers that websites implant on browsers to build profiles on consumers. While Apple has been stymieing cookies every step of the way, blocking tracking on iPhones and Safari, Google has been more deliberate about how it will evolve, and now says it won't drop cookies until the end of 2023.
“I’m pissed. I don’t know if every brand is pissed, but I’m pissed,” says Jonathan Halvorson, VP, consumer experience, Mondeléz. “[Marketers are] losing time. Consumers are losing trust in the industry, so why are we continuing with this?”
Halvorson says a harder deadline would force the industry to find a new solution. “I want cookies to deprecate because it will advance other proposals and get things moving. Rolling it back to a later time will keep us in a purgatory of mediocrity.”
Luiz Felipe Barros, VP of global media and data center of excellence at Anheuser-Busch InBev, says that Google's delay extends the horizon for a doomed technology that needs replacing. “We’d love to have had a final solution already that can replace third-party cookies that’s privacy compliant and transparent for consumers,” Barros says, adding that Google’s move creates uncertainty for the industry.
Brands are eager to move beyond the cookie because they are already developing their next-generation digital advertising strategies. These involve first-party data, which unlike third-party cookies, comes from a direct relationship with the consumers, who presumably consent to sharing their information.
There are multiple alternatives for cookies in development, with varying degrees of privacy safeguards. Google had been developing one such alternative called FLoC, or Confederated Learning of Cohorts, which groups consumers into anonymized buckets for mass targeting of ads. Google delayed its phasing out of cookies due to hiccups in FLoC testing, with advertisers pointing out privacy flaws.