Could Google’s Cookie Plans Be Crumbling Amidst Looming Investigation?

/ 18 February 2021

Fears that removal of third-party cookies from Google Chrome will increase the technology giant’s advantage have made national news this week. 

The likes of the Financial Times and the BBC (along with many marketing and tech publications) have reported that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is to investigate Google’s ‘Privacy Sandbox’ browser changes following complaints.

The Privacy Sandbox is the term used for planned changes to the browser, which will see third-party cookies replaced by a new set of advertising targeting tools. Google says the new tools will better protect consumers’ privacy, but some fear they’ll actually shut out competitors and create a walled garden.

Thus complaints that Google is “abusing its dominant position”, made by those such as the Marketers for an Open Web (a group of tech companies and publishers), have prompted the CMA to open an investigation.

Taking a Step Back 

Cookies are small data files stored on a user’s device when visiting a webpage. They retain information about internet users and, as such, help target online ads. Third party cookies enable consumer behavior to be tracked across the web. However, increasing data privacy concerns have called such practices into question. People just don’t like having their data scraped. With a wave of new regulation has swept across markets to provide better data protection, companies have been forced to act to stay ahead of the curve or risk further enforced restrictions.

Google says its planned changes will better protect consumers’ privacy. It will continue to support first-party cookies (used to track activity within their own pages) but phase out support for third-party cookies on Chrome, which has 64% of the global browser market. The big concern is that personalized, targeted advertising will only be possible within the technology giant’s own ecosystem. 

In one interview with Campaign, James Rosewell, director of MOW said, “what Google is doing in the name of privacy is saying, ‘we will take these things away from the open web’, but they’re not taking it away from themselves… they have a wide range of terms and conditions that people can accept through their various products. No competitor to Google could possibly gain that level of consent – unless their name starts with an F or an A and they’re also a multibillion-dollar tech company.”

Our Take 

There has been a lot of talk about the importance of first-party data in a ‘cookieless world’, along with increased recognition to gain consented data, organizations must now establish proper value exchanges. Companies are realizing they must make clear what people are getting in exchange for their data; but that’s easier for some than others.  

Indeed, for the multibillion-dollar tech companies, which are incredibly ingrained in so many of our lives, it’s not so much of an issue. But for the vast majority of organizations, the challenge now is about shifting mindset, from passive to proactive data collection. 

In one recent article Take control of your first-party data, or quit marketing, the author wrote “…it’s actually baffling to me that more marketers aren’t talking about what the cookieless era means, and what we should be doing about it.” It’s a good point. What’s coming is a big change for many. 

3radical is at the forefront of ‘earned data’ by providing consumer data acquisition solutions that help companies establish vital value exchanges and reimagining long held data gathering practices. It’s our view that rather than seeing these changes as problems to be overcome, earning consent and engagements are opportunities to improve the effectiveness of marketing. Transparency, value exchange, and trust are much more solid foundations than surveillance, crumbs of information, and inference.

While debates will rage on, those that prioritize how they earn their consumers’ data can watch from a position of confidence, knowing they connect with people in ways unreliant on third parties. That’s a nice position to be in.

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