What Do You Want First: The Bad News or the Google News? ~ On Third-Party Cookies Bans ~

Brandon Grosvenor wrote this on Mar 05, 2020 | 0 comments

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Are you a smaller digital advertiser? Well, if between Australian bushfires, impeachment hearings, COVID-19 disasters and Kobe’s 13-year old daughter, you missed Google’s mid-January announcement, you’d better sit down for some more news.

On January 14, Google announced that it intended to block third-party cookies from its browser Chrome … in two years. Not right away, mind, but by 2022. In the meantime, they’re figuring out ways “to mitigate workarounds.” Which sounds great for consumers.

The announcement was a follow-up to their Privacy Sandbox declaration last summer, wherein Google committed to “Building a more private web.” After the embarrassing 2018 data breach when upwards of 30 million Facebook users’ data were harvested by Russia-friendly Cambridge Analytica, Google’s getting behind the little guy.

Or is it? In short, we don’t know. On the surface, yes, it sounds like great news for consumers. But considering the source, we’re less confident it’ll be truly great for anyone but Google, especially niche advertisers.

First, what are third-party cookies? Heck, what are cookies (and who doesn’t love a third party)?

Cookies are minute files that websites put on your computer when you visit them. They measure your behaviour: what you click on, what information you enter, how long you stay on a page, etc. First-party cookies come directly from a site that you’re visiting. They can make your experience a bit easier the next time you visit. (You can log in quicker; maybe they don’t show you any Nickelback videos; whatever.)

But some sites allow third parties to put cookies on your computer which track your behaviour thereafter, following you across the different publishers on the web.

Why stop these third-party cookies? The brokers sell the data they’ve gathered by observing your behaviour. Meanwhile you got nothing in return. Hardly fair! So, Google preventing third parties from tracking your behaviour in 2022 is great news! How brave of them to make the announcement.

Then again, rival browsers Safari and Firefox already ban third-party cookies in 2017 and 2019, respectively. So, at least some small part of these declaration must be PR catch-up.

We suspect the ban will make things more challenging for small marketers for two reasons:

1) The ban will make it harder for you to target consumers. Not that third-party tracking and behaviour observation has been anywhere near perfected. (Be honest: when’s the last time you clicked on an ad in the middle of your day and bought something?) But tracking has helped a lot of niche marketers find the right customer at just the right time.

2) It’s Google, the titanic gargantuan behemoth-hulk. When’s the last time any monopolist selflessly changed the rules to make things better for their customers? We’d love to see things go well for the fabled ‘little guy’ — but we’re happy to predict they’ll go well for Google.

Remember Google says it’s planning to make the web more private for users by quashing third-party cookies. Not first-party which, we’ve already argued above are a convenience. They certainly are convenient for Google. It’s easy for Google to trash third-party cookies when they own and retain so much first-party data.

Consider. They know exactly what you’ve queried for the past 15 years, all the Youtube rabbit holes you’ve plumbed, what you’re asking Alexa for from your couch or Android phone, who you’re emailing back and forth with on your Gmail account, the route you walked with Google Maps to the pot store … you get the point.

It’s less Big Brother than Massive Mother! And this announcement could just as easily be interpreted as a competition cull.

But let us reiterate that we don’t know what the fallout of this rule change will be and are loathe to make predictions.

Five years ago, few genies would’ve forecasted Brexit, a Trump presidency — or even a Liberal federal government here in Canada! Remember, until just weeks before the election, the NDP were the government in waiting. We do think Google’s going to be OK, though.

Written by Steven Bochenek – Sr Content Contributor. 

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