Marketers respond to Google Chrome cookie decision with mixture of hope and fear

Last week Google announced it would end support for third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022 or sooner. Google said it would use its “Privacy Sandbox” as an arena to develop alternatives for ad targeting and conversion tracking.

Google is explicitly trying to balance ad personalization and consumer privacy. The company said in its blog post, that this requires “new approaches to ensure that ads continue to be relevant for users,” while minimizing “data shared with websites and advertisers.”

Two days later, the 4As and the ANA issued a statement expressing “deep disappointment” about Google’s move, saying that “It would threaten to substantially disrupt much of the infrastructure of today’s Internet without providing any viable alternative, and it may choke off the economic oxygen from advertising that startups and emerging companies need to survive.”

We reached out to a number of digital marketers from different disciplines to ask them what they thought of Google’s decision. Their responses convey a mix of skepticism and anxiety, pragmatism and optimism.

Aaron Grote, Digital Marketing Analyst, Great Clips

Google’s changes are just a reflection of what’s happening more broadly and the pressures they’re putting on Chrome. Safari has ITP and its market share is protected by its OS. Brave has built a privacy-first browser and ad system from the ground up, and is probably the first to do so with a truly great user experience. Outside the browser world, even Android is actively pushing people to take control of their personal data. All that means Chrome had to make these changes.

But losing Netscape-era tracking tools won’t necessarily be bad for advertisers. There are projects out there to maintain effective targeting, fraud prevention, and attribution in privacy-safe ways. And those projects are open for comments and contribution for advertisers who want to participate. These changes to advertising’s infrastructure are happening in browsers and operating systems because we as an industry have repeatedly passed on chances to do the right thing on our own. Statements from industry orgs entrenching around an already-lost status quo only further distances our industry from the important work that will determine its future in the decades to come.

Kristina Podnar, Digital Policy Consultant & Author

In terms of the Google announcement, I (along with many in the industry) was surprised by the timing of Google’s announcement, less than the actual statement. Realistically, the status quo could not continue. But if you asked me several months ago, I would have bet you a good bottle of Malbec that we are talking 2022 before something like this rolled around. Alas, I would have lost the bottle so glad we didn’t speak sooner.

For a while now, I have been saying that privacy is the new marketing goldmine. The opportunity to move away from cookies, which are an annoyance to most users (not to mentioned an unknown one!) to the browser is a win for user privacy and trusted marketing relationships. On top of that, the use the Privacy Sandbox to receive anonymized signals and where applicable, aggregated conversion data, will allow yet more trusted interactions and an increase in first-party data. We will start to quickly see separation of those marketers and brands that have a trusted relationship with the user, and filter out those who do not, therefore underscoring that fewer but better engagements, is what it’s all about.

More than Google’s announcement, I am excited about the WWW involvement in the Privacy Sandbox. What marketers need most is privacy standardization across browsers. So while there are still many unanswered questions around the APIs, this effort could bring us all a step closer in that direction.

Chad C. Waetzig, EVP of Marketing & Branding, Crunch Fitness

At Crunch, we strongly support consumers’ online privacy. The use of third-party cookies helps us with analytics and measurement, along with targeting our advertising to those most interested in Crunch, fitness and gym memberships. We believe that those two things can be compatible. Our hope is that Google will continue supporting cookies in their Chrome browser until the needs of all stakeholders, that is the users, publishers, and advertisers, have been effectively addressed with viable alternatives.

Victor Wong, Co-Founder and CEO, Thunder

Google is finally embracing elements of differential privacy, a form of privacy protection that provides accurate overall statistics while shielding individuals’ identity. Thunder co-founded the Truth in Measurement industry group to explore and set a differential privacy standard for walled gardens and open internet to be measurable together while ensuring no publisher data or user identity leaks. 

It isn’t promising that they don’t seem to want to support view through attribution which gives more credit to sites that contribute higher funnel awareness before the search click that will now further get disproportionate credit. I am glad they are suggesting differential privacy can be part of the solution to providing data to advertisers while protecting the consumer but think their current proposal falls short of what advertisers need.

David Berkowitz, Founder Serial Marketers

The third-party cookie became a useful, accepted, imperfect form of fingerprinting. Chrome became so dominant that Google had the power to unilaterally kill off these cookies, just as Flash would have had a much longer shelf-life before Google brought about its demise. Google is not a neutral actor. Google also has the advantage of being able to rely so heavily on first-party data collected from people signing into Google through search, Gmail, YouTube, Drive, Photos, Android, Chrome, and numerous third-party apps. What’s good for the Google is not necessarily good for the gander, and it will be very bad for many whose geese are about to be cooked.

Google’s position of power isn’t the only concern. What’s more worrisome is what will replace third-party cookies. Marketers are just starting to grow comfortable with figuring out attribution, and cross-channel attribution remains challenging and often murky. What marketers want is straightforward: an easy, reliable, accurate way to determine the impact of their advertising so as to direct budget allocation. Marketers won’t give up the quest to solve the classic John Wanamaker conundrum. Various parties across publishers, technology companies, research and analytics offerings, and agencies will continue to pursue such solutions. They could be more surreptitious or intrusive than what we have now. Fear of what could be worse isn’t an excuse to do nothing.

You can’t give up on smoking bans because you fear that when smokers quit, they will seek out more dangerous substances like heroin. You have to just try to solve the health crisis caused by smoking. In this case though, marketers aren’t addicted to the substance (third-party cookies) so much as they’re addicted to the benefit that the substance delivers (attribution), and marketers will likely experiment with any substance that delivers such a hit.

Margie Schneider, Search Marketing Manager

After reading Google’s statement, I honestly found that it sounded more like a very public assertion that they are the de facto leader of the web, in a way. The whole thing feels like a fundamental change to how the web works, not just an attempt to “assert more control over digital advertising.” Google says they want our partnership, but they are holding the reins of change. To me, this is a sledgehammer approach, with an aggressive timeline, executed by a company that brands, advertisers, and even users have no reason to trust.

Simon Poulton, VP of Digital Intelligence, Wpromote

will obviously benefit Google long term given the likely
negative impact on 3rd party advertising platforms. Certainly, this is the
primary focus for groups like 4A’s that are asking for a status quo until they
have developed a new solution. I don’t believe this will limit innovation –
rather, it will force our industry to become more innovative to find a solution
that supports the needs of advertisers and the privacy of consumers. 

reality is, the nature of internet privacy is changing, and Google is in a tricky spot where they need to continue
monetizing digital advertising, while also providing (at least the appearance of)
a user-first privacy policy. 

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor to Search Engine Land, a member of the programming team for SMX events and the VP, Market Insights at Uberall.

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