Google’s attempt to snuff out third-party web tracking cookies is moving along. The company announced today that its Privacy Sandbox APIs will be available to all Chrome users in July. In addition, it laid out the next steps for web developers to start testing and integrating the new system later this year.
Anthony Chavez, Google’s VP of Product Management, recommends developers begin preparing for the new system soon after the July API release. Next, the company will let devs simulate Chrome third-party cookie deprecation “for a configurable percentage of their users” starting in Q4 2023, followed by one percent of Chrome users shifting to Privacy Sandbox in Q1 2024. Google is still targeting the second half of next year for the broader deprecation of third-party cookies in Chrome.
“With this milestone, developers can utilize these APIs to conduct scaled, live-traffic testing, as they prepare to operate without third-party cookies,” said Chavez.
Privacy Sandbox tries to strike a balance between user privacy and advertising revenue. When platforms block third-party cookies — in what Google has called “a blunt approach” — advertisers can resort to fingerprinting. This system gathers info like IP address, browser fingerprint and other details to profile users for targeted ads. It’s a highly intrusive workaround the ad biz uses when their old money-making avenues are blocked. But, of course, ads — despised as they are — are still the financial backbone of online media publications and other websites. Without pesky online ads, we’d likely see even more paywalls and an increased nosedive in the quality and availability of independent journalism.
The new system is built around the Topics API, which assigns users a list of a person’s interests based on recent activity. It then compares it to a database sourced from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and Google’s own data. Publishers can use the API to match their interests with relevant ads — without the more invasive tracking tied to cookies and fingerprinting. Google promises that stored user interests will only be kept for three weeks, and it will delete old topics. The company also says the data and processing all occur on-device without external servers (including Google’s). It developed the plan “in consultation with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).”