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On January 14, Chrome announced a pair of dramatic (or at least dramatic-sounding) changes to the way the web browser will handle cookies. Since Chrome is the most widely used web browser in the world, and since cookies form an integral part of most marketing technologies, these changes might seem earth-shaking. However, on closer inspection, they may turn out to be less intimidating than they originally appear.

A Closer Look at the Changes

In his Jan. 14 blog post, Justin Schuh, Director of Chrome Engineering, outlined two major changes to the Chromium engine one imminent, the other scheduled for several years in the future:

  1. Starting in February 2020, Chrome will limit insecure, cross-site cookies.
  2. By 2022, Chrome hopes to phase out third-party cookies entirely and replace their essential functionality with a set of developer tools currently referred to by the working title ‘Privacy Sandbox.’

The first of these announcements is obviously the more pressing. Fortunately, except for extreme circumstances, most publishers and marketers should not have to make any changes in order to comply with Chrome’s update. 

By requiring sites to retrieve cross-site (or “third-party”) cookies via a secure protocol, Chrome is adding official sanction to an already widespread best practice. Most websites already retrieve resources via the secure HTTPS, as opposed to insecure HTTP, protocol. Switching offending sites from HTTP to HTTPS will be a job for each site’s developer.

If you’re worried that insecure transfer protocols are hampering your ad tracking, it’s best to reach out to the offending website’s development team.

Chrome’s second announcement, that the platform will phase out third-party cookies entirely over the next two years, has wider implications. Last May marked the beginning of a privacy-centric pivot for Chrome, and that project, while still largely opaque, has promised several things.

For one, Chrome has made it a priority to give users greater control over, and insight into, the information that websites are collecting. Future versions of Chrome will allow users to restrict targeted advertising and set cookie preferences that persist across sites.

Chrome has also promised to instigate measures that will limit device fingerprinting, which is a technique whereby developers use surreptitious means to determine a user’s identity without the user’s knowledge. Chrome insists that restrictive cookie policies, such as those maintained by Apple’s Safari browser, promote device fingerprinting and should be counteracted.

3Q’s Perspective

Though Chrome has promised to allow for greater user control over advertising preferences, and to restrict third-party cookies entirely, the browser is still maintained by Google, and Google makes its money from digital advertising. Thus, even though Chrome has plans to restrict some technologies used frequently in digital marketing, it is by no means seeking to eliminate digital marketing entirely. 

Details are scant at this point, but Chrome’s Privacy Sandbox will apparently include features that allow marketers to measure their ads’ effectiveness, and target users who accept that functionality. Chrome’s usefulness as a tool for accessing information is, to Google at least, secondary to its usefulness as an ad delivery device. The likelihood of their undermining this core functionality is extremely low.

As more details about Privacy Sandbox emerge, advertisers and developers will have to figure out how to work with those APIs to continue marketing effectively. However, given Google’s historically full-throated support of digital advertising, we should be able to assume that whatever the Privacy Sandboxes entails, it will include some support for digital ads.