The Privacy Sandbox, Google’s alternative to cookies, will be rolled out in Chrome starting this year. From next year, one percent of third-party cookies will be blocked.
The Privacy Sandbox is Google’s response to the trend of many users and competing browsers like Firefox blocking tracking cookies. The idea behind the sandbox is that the alternative is better for privacy while still allowing Google to sell ads. As a user, you can indicate your interests and people with similar profiles are put together in groups, to which those advertisements are then directed.
In a statement, Anthony Chaves, VP of Privacy Sandbox, writes that Google is ready to start rolling out the system after five years. The software will come with an update to the Chrome browser in July, and from early 2024, one percent of Chrome users will switch to the Privacy Sandbox. This means, among other things, that third-party cookies are blocked for them. The soft rollout should, among other things, allow developers to view the impact. By the end of next year, almost all Chrome users should be in the sandbox.
With this announcement, Google seems to have found a final shape for its alternative cookie system. Google’s original plan was to phase out third-party cookies in 2022, but the company had to postpone that plan. Previous incarnations of the Privacy Sandbox, known as FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), have been met with protests from both advertisers and privacy activists. FLoC tried to sort users into an anonymized basket based on their click behaviour, which could then be used to sell ads. However, the system would still be very privacy-unfriendly, allowing Chrome to exclude competing advertisers.
As the world’s largest advertiser, Google benefits from being able to profile people, but opposition to tracking cookies and the privacy concerns that come with them in the EU and beyond, is growing. So for Google, it’s about finding a balance between its purpose as a browser maker and that as an advertiser. The latest version, which ends up in Chrome, works with broader interests and allows users to indicate what they want to see.