Google Privacy Sandbox initiative – an update

Google Privacy Sandbox initiative – an update

As web developers, we have been following the development of the Google Privacy Sandbox Initiative closely, and its potential impact on websites and their users. Recent announcements from Google have prompted us to give an update.

The background

Google’s Privacy Sandbox was floated as an alternative to third party cookies and is claimed to enhance privacy on the web. The third party cookies, used for online advertising and tracking amongst other things, would be replaced with browser features allowing advertisers to track and measure movement and habits, albeit claimed to have better privacy-preserving capability than third party cookies.

The plan was to use FLoC, an AI system that categorises users according to viewing history, but the concern has always been that user types could be shared with any site a user interacted with, thus creating the opportunity for discrimination.

Google believes that using its Privacy Sandbox Initiative will allow third party cookies to be dropped without any reduction in, or loss of, advertising income. However, it raises the counter argument that this smacks of a monopoly, forcing website owners and marketers into using Google’s technology over any other. As a result, in early 2021, the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) announced that it would open an investigation into the Privacy Sandbox Initiative.

October 2023

At the beginning of October, Google announced that its plan was to remove third party cookies from 1% of all Chrome users by early 2024, with removal from all users by the end of 2024. This translates to 30 million users based on an estimated 3 billion+ Chrome users. Aspects of the Privacy Sandbox Initiative have already begun to be rolled out to Chrome users, in particular Google's APIs which can deliver tailored advertisements to visitors with Chrome compatible browsers; Chrome selects areas of interests based on your previous browsing so that ads can be targeted individually. 

Impact of the Privacy Sandbox Initiative

If Google’s plan goes ahead, Chrome visitors to websites will be third party cookie-free, even if the site owner is not taking part. Also, instead of third party cookies tracking visitor interests and trends, the Privacy Sandbox Topics API tracks browser history without third party cookies, allowing websites to ask Chrome what people are interested in.

Obviously, Google considers the API structure of the Privacy Sandbox Initiative to be the perfect alternative to third party cookies which are seen to be intrusive. However, while Microsoft Edge may embrace the technology in the future too, Apple and Mozilla have rejected at least one API over privacy concerns, and Firefox and Safari do not support the initiative at all. For now then it seems that Google's end of 2024 deadline relies heavily on the outcome of the CMA investigation.

If you would like to discuss any aspect of the use of third party cookies on your website, get in touch via email or telephone on 01507 525500.


Google Logo, courtesy of Google Inc., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons