Chrome, far and away the world’s most used browser, is planning to phase out third party cookies within two years, the company announced today.

Google admitted its browser’s use of third party cookies, which covertly track users across the web, is now out of step with consumers’ expectations of privacy, and is ramping up work on alternative standards.

“Users are demanding greater privacy – including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used – and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands,” director of Chrome Engineering Justin Schuh wrote in a blog post today.

The decision has significant implications for many players in the digital advertising ecosystem and caused some adtech stock to tumble. Shares in Criteo, a french adtech giant which relies on third party cookies for its retargeting service, fell 15 per cent following the news.

What are third party cookies?

Third party cookies are small pieces of code that are saved within browsers when users visit sites, which then follow them across the web and collect data on consumers’ actions. Cookies are seen by many as fundamental to the online advertising ecosystem, with many adtech relying heavily on them for their business model.

Rival browsers Safari and Firefox already block third party cookies and Microsoft is rolling out a new version of Edge this month with enhanced tracking prevention tools.

But Google, which has a browser market share of 56 per cent and relies largely on digital advertising for its billions in revenue, had until today refused to budge on blocking third party cookies, arguing “blunt” approaches would undermine advertising-supported sites and would encourage even more opaque tracking methods.

Google began testing a “Privacy Sandbox” in August last year, which it says is being used to develop open standards to encourage more privacy on the web. The company says it is now confident the new standards can support a private and secure ad-supported web – one without third party cookies.

But Google says it is still seeking input from stakeholders on how it will work and the two-year time frame remains an “intention” rather than a hard cutoff.

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