TMW #162 | Third-party cookies are not done with us

Feb 18, 2024

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Third-party cookies are not done with us 

We’re not out of the woods yet

It looks like the third-party cookie doesn’t want to end the party just yet. In fact, there are some good reasons for why this technology might have to hang around. And it has everything to do with Google. 

The past few years have been crawling their way to this point in 2024: Google has started blocking third-party cookies on Chrome. It’s a watershed moment for the advertising industry.

At TMW we rarely copy and paste charts into our Sunday Deep Dive. But I have to shout out this chart from Arena for its pure brilliance. As you can see, as online advertising revenue grows, the vice of privacy squeezes tighter: 

There are a few key moves missing, though. For example, every other major browser ditched third-party cookies years ago. In the realm of Safari and Firefox, the third-party cookie is old news – a relic of the past. But Google has been hanging on for dear life, initially proposing deprecation back in 2021, and then delaying it again and again. 

There are a lot more fines for data privacy breaches, too.

But now the day has finally come! Google has started the deprecation of 1% of Chrome users – that’s roughly 30 million devices. But the journey is far from over. The IAB Tech Lab has announced the outcome of a sweeping investigation into Google’s alternative to third-party cookies, the Privacy Sandbox, and has some harsh criticism for it, going so far as to say that the technology is, after years of development, very underbaked. 

The UK Competition Markets Authority has announced its own review of the anti-competitive risks of Google’s third-party cookie deprecation, and as a result, they are moving to bar Google from blocking third-party cookies. Add into this the compounding lawsuits, major industry players moving away from their Google alliances, and a US DOJ case that alleges that Google is running an illegal advertising monopoly, and you have a perfect storm that just might catalyze an overhaul beyond the third-party cookie, or delay its demise into infinity. 

What we’re dealing with here is not the end of a specific type of technology, but the industry’s lackluster attempts at defining the role, risks, and opportunities of private corporations, and their control over the flow of advertising data, information, and online services. 

And so the industry is in cookie turmoil… and it’s all Google’s fault. Most of us thought that 2024 was a done deal for third-party cookies, but we’re not out of the woods yet. And even if we managed to escape it, is what’s out there going to be any better compared to what we’ve been dealing with up to this point? The jury is (literally) still out on that one. 

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