Advertising: Google makes a new proposal to replace cookies

Posted Jan 25, 2022, 6:45 PMUpdated on Jan 25, 2022 at 7:01 PM

How to do without cookies? These small computer files recorded by browsers over the course of Internet users are now essential for measuring the audience of sites, fighting against fraud and, above all, personalizing the advertisements displayed by the sites and judging their effectiveness. But they are doomed. After Safari, Firefox or Brave, Chrome (Google’s browser, used by two out of three Internet users worldwide) will soon get rid of third-party cookies.

“Users’ expectations of privacy are changing, as are the regulations around it. The whole ecosystem must adapt to this reality,” explains Ben Galbraith, product director at Google. For two years, the world leader in digital advertising has been working on alternative solutions – more respectful of privacy, but still effective in displaying relevant ads to Internet users.

The initiative, dubbed “Privacy Sandbox”, has so far relied in particular on targeting cohorts – a thousand Internet users with similar behaviors. On Tuesday, Google announced that it was abandoning this track, which was controversial among publishers and advertisers.

His new proposal is called “Topics”. It consists of assigning each Internet user five “centres of interest” (“Fitness”, “Travel”…), drawn from a list which currently includes 300 and which could expand to a few thousand. These will be defined according to the Internet user’s browsing history over the previous three weeks and renewed each week. Users can choose to uncheck certain segments or not participate in Topics at all.

Antitrust investigations

According to Google, the new system has the advantage of being simpler than that of the cohorts, both for the advertising industry and for the Internet user. The giant, however, gives no indication of its effectiveness in terms of targeting. He has, however, never made a secret that any compromise to further respect user privacy will result in poorer ad performance.

Other industry players (advertisers, publishers or adtech companies) are therefore worried about their income. Because any new tool, whatever it is, is structuring for their future… Many are also concerned that Google is taking advantage of it to shape the digital advertising market even more by its own hands.

Finally, many criticize Google’s unilateral decision to get rid of third-party cookies. Complaints for abuse of dominant position were filed last year before the British antitrust and European competition authorities. Just this week, a coalition of major German publishers filed a new complaint to this effect in Brussels.

Uncertain schedule

Topics is unlikely to change their minds. Some are already upset that Google alone determines the audience segments that can be used by the entire industry. Others fear that the new tool will only benefit big players… like Google. “If a user visits Amazon, we just know that he is interested in e-commerce. It’s not granular at all. Only players like Google with a lot of ‘first party’ data can get away with it, ”says a connoisseur.

The discussions promise to be tense. Especially since Google’s schedule provides for a transition from the third quarter of 2022, and a complete disappearance of third-party cookies in Chrome in the third quarter of 2023. Already, the giant does not formally exclude a new shift in this calendar.

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