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Google hands third-party cookies a stay of execution


Google has postponed the introduction of its planned Privacy Sandbox initiative – including the timeline for the phasing out third-party cookies in the Chrome web browser – to the middle of 2023, saying it has “become clear” that it needs more time to get things right.

This comes less than a fortnight after Google committed to undertake a series of steps to address the concerns of the online advertising community with regard to third-party cookies, following an investigation by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Privacy Sandbox is supposed to create web technologies that better protect consumer privacy online, while giving companies and developers the tools they need to build digital businesses, and keep the web open and accessible.

Vinay Goel, director of privacy engineering at Google Chrome, said that for this to happen, the web community needs to jointly develop open standards that enhance web privacy and give people a clearer picture, and more control, over what happens to their personal data.

“In order to do this, we need to move at a responsible pace,” said Goel. “This will allow sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services.

“This is important to avoid jeopardising the business models of many web publishers that support freely available content. And by providing privacy-preserving technology, we as an industry can help ensure that cookies are not replaced with alternative forms of individual tracking, and discourage the rise of covert approaches like fingerprinting.”

Goel said the search giant would continue to work with the community to create more private approaches to areas the advertising industry is concerned about, such as measurement, delivering relevant content, and detecting fraud. He said that so far, Chrome and others have put forward more than 30 proposals, four of which are undergoing trials.

For Chrome specifically, the goal will now be to have key technologies in place by late 2022 for the developer community to start adopting them. Subject to its engagement with UK regulators, it could then phase out third-party cookies in a staged process starting in mid-2023 – this should take about three months, said Goel.

“We believe that the Privacy Sandbox will provide the best privacy protections for everyone,” he added. “By ensuring that the ecosystem can support their businesses without tracking individuals across the web, we can all ensure that free access to content continues.

“And because of the importance of this mission, we must take time to evaluate the new technologies, gather feedback and iterate to ensure they meet our goals for both privacy and performance, and give all developers time to follow the best path for privacy.”

More details of the revised process will be made available soon on the Privacy Sandbox website.

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