Google is testing alternatives to third party cookies: Here’s how it’s going

As Google’s deadline for eliminating third party cookies in Chrome approaches, the company has been running experiments to determine how alternative, more privacy-friendly technologies can serve both its users and its advertisers.

It first said it would end support for the cookies in its Chrome browser within two years in a blog post in January, 2020, with the caveat that it must first address the needs of users, publishers, and advertisers, and develop tools to mitigate workarounds. That deadline has been pushed out, and now sits in the second half of 2024.

Last month it announced the results of the latest round of testing using its Privacy Sandbox APIs, and so far Google said it is pleased. Using what it described as “a combination of privacy preserving signals for IBA (interest-based audience) solutions while maintaining the use of third-party cookies for other use cases such as measurement and remarketing” resulted in only small declines compared to the control group using the current third-party cookies.

The company said in its report, “the experiment showed that when using interest-based audience solutions with privacy-preserving signals on the display network, Google Ads advertiser spending on IBA – as a proxy for scale reached – decreased by 2-7 per cent compared to third-party-cookie-based results. For conversions per dollar, as a proxy for return on investment, the decrease was 1-3 per cent. Finally, we also observed that click-through rates remained within 90 per cent of the status quo. And we observed similar performance for Display & Video 360.”

“These encouraging results are validating what we hoped – that digital advertising can be more private for users, and also effective for advertisers and publishers,” said Dan Taylor, Google’s vice president, global ads, during a media briefing.

“It’s also clear that an effective and private advertising campaign is going to utilize a combination of different privacy safe signals. Things like the topic API aren’t meant to be ad tech in a box and be used in isolation. And so that’s how we’re implementing. And that’s how we encourage the industry to implement as well.

“We also found the AI powered optimization offered by Google, as well as many other companies in the ad technology space, can positively impact campaign performance. For example, campaigns that use Google’s optimized targeting or maximize conversions bid strategies were less impacted by the removal of third party cookies in this experiment. This indicates that machine learning can play a significant role in driving results and filling the gaps left by the removal of third party cookies.”

A whitepaper discussing the experiment and providing its complete results has been published on GitHub.

However, Google cautioned, while the results are encouraging, they “should not be considered as an unequivocal indicator of Google’s IBA performance after the third-party cookie deprecation. The current experiment measures the effectiveness of serving interest-based audiences; the results of future experiments including measurement, remarketing, and other use cases may vary.”

Consequently, the company plans to perform more experiments in consultation with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, to whom it has made commitments (PDF download) to address competition and privacy concerns.

“AI has been foundational to our ads products for many years,” Taylor noted. “And the fact that they are also a privacy enhancing multiplier is a great extra benefit.”

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Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner
Lynn Greiner has been interpreting tech for businesses for over 20 years and has worked in the industry as well as writing about it, giving her a unique perspective into the issues companies face. She has both IT credentials and a business degree.

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