In March 2022 a new update for the world’s most popular browser, Google Chrome, will be released. The update will ban third-party cookies from the platform. This may initially seem like a big win for privacy but it’s just the tip of the iceberg as Google dives head first into the advertising game.

For most people, the removal of third-party cookies will go unnoticed. However behind the scenes things will be very different. Mozilla’s Firefox blocked third-party cookies in 2019 and are currently blocking ten billion trackers per day. So, while Google won’t be the first browser to remove third-party cookies, as the most popular it will have the largest impact. This impact will be felt particularly hard by the wealth of businesses who rely on advertising. For example, it’s been predicted that online publishers could see short-term revenue from ads decrease by 70 per cent.

 

Google analytics dashboard displayed on a laptop screen

So what will life be like without third-party cookies? Pretty similar. Google hasn’t skipped a beat getting deeper into the advertising game to plug the hole third-party cookies will leave. Google has developed browser-based machine learning that will log your web activity and group you with other people with similar interests. This Artificial Intelligence (AI) system, Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), will allow advertisers to target ads to people based on the group they’re in.

While it sounds impressive, there’s been heated debate about whether FLoC will discriminate against people based on sensitive attributes such as race, sexual orientation or disability. By collating people’s general behaviours and interests, FLoC may be able to infer this sensitive information. If an online attacker wanted to target a group based on their race or religion, they could use FLoC groups to target whoever they want.

Google’s engineers have made it clear that FLoC groups with sensitive attributes will be blocked or, if that’s not possible, Google will change FLoC’s algorithm to “reduce the correlation”. However, Google’s engineers have also acknowledged the potential for algorithmic bias.

Google headquarters with a yellow bike in front

With the removal of third-party cookies first-party data collectors are set to profit. Especially Facebook and Google. Both companies have a powerful suite of tools for data collection through their own services and the software they provide to others. These two tech giants stand to benefit the most when first-party data becomes the main way of serving ads.

The clunky alternative for advertisers is to use logins and user accounts to collect their own first-party data. If advertisers want a smooth process they will be pushed to rely on Facebook or Google services to collect data for them. The impending end of third-party cookies means Google and Facebook’s ad technology will be even further entrenched.

Want to beat the update before it takes effect? Get in touch with 4DP today to put your online advertising ahead of the curve.