New year, new resolutions!
In early 2020, Google published some important news on its blog: as of February, third-party cookies will gradually be blocked from the Chrome browser.
The Mountain View firm claims to meet the high demands of its users, who want a better protection of their privacy. Therefore, it seems that Google granted their wish, judging from the post that the company wrote passing itself off as the savior of mankind.
So, is that really good news? Did Google finally have an epiphany about the value of privacy? That remains to be seen!
What’s a third-party cookie?
Let’s start at the beginning: what’s a cookie? I promise I won’t make a terrible joke by saying “It’s a pastry!“.
In a non-scientific and simplified language, a cookie is a file saved on your computer when you’re visiting a website. For instance, if you log in to your Google account and click on “Remember me” when authenticating, the cookie file will remember that you don’t want to enter your credentials every time you log in. Consequently, when you go back to this website, you’ll be automatically logged in to your user account.
That was just “Cookie 101”, but basically, just remember that a cookie is a file placed on your computer by a party to provide a better user experience.
But what’s a third-party cookie?
The difference is simple: a third-party cookie is a file placed on your computer by an external party to the website you’re visiting. Generally, they’re considered as “intrusive” cookies used for statistical or advertising purposes. For instance, if you’re reading a blog on the internet (preferably, ours), it’s likely that a cookie is placed on your computer by Google Analytics in order to measure the traffic on the website.
These third-party cookies can also be designed for marketing purposes. In concrete terms, picture yourself on an online shopping site and you’re dying to buy the shower hose of your dreams. You enter “shower hose” on the search bar of the website, then you realize that no one ever buys a shower hose online, so you leave the page without ordering your product. When you go back to your web browser, it’s highly likely that most of the websites you’ll visit will contain an advertising banner encouraging you to buy a shower hose at the best price.
Basically, that’s what a third-party cookie is. It’s a file placed on your computer by a third-party for statistical or advertising purposes. Even if they bother you and are intrusive, just know that these cookies are often the bread and butter of many websites free of charge for users or not making a lot of money. Therefore, it’s a way for small structures to cover the cost of hosting their website, by resorting to advertisement.
These are the cookies that Google wants to gradually block on its Chrome browser.
Is Google breaking ground in that field?
Did Google set the cat among the pigeons by getting rid of third-party cookies on its homemade browser? Not really.
As a matter of fact, Google Chrome already allowed users to disable third-party cookies on their browsers. However, that option wasn’t enabled by default, unlike some competitors like Firefox or Brave. Therefore, you’ve always been able to block third-party cookies, but you had to do it manually.
Moreover, the third-party cookie blocking won’t happen overnight through a Chrome update. Google opted for a “gradual” approach within two years. The firm says that this deadline is necessary because a sudden blocking would impact the whole web ecosystem. It seems like a legitimate reason, given the high number of websites that survive thanks to the income generated by these third-party cookies. Therefore, a transitional phase will be necessary, just so the users and web players have enough time to adjust to these major changes.
All in all, this announcement from Google sounds like good news for users concerned about their privacy on the web… Well, almost.
What does Google announcement really mean?
In concrete terms, what does Google announcement imply? Did the firm finally rethink its economic model? Did the GDPR penalty imposed in January 2019 make the company aware that privacy is a fundamental right? Did Google leaders finally read the GDPR?
Let’s get to the point: no, Google did not get involved with philanthropy.
In fact, the announcement of the firm is like a business turnaround. Google has been dominating the online advertising market for a few years now: about 40% of the ads come from Google Ads, while the number 2 advertiser is Facebook, with a 22% market share. Therefore, Google has a huge advertising monopoly on the internet.
Obviously, the monopoly of Google Ads became poorly regarded, especially by the Member States of the European Union. Indeed, the firm was sued many times for abuse of dominance, or to point out its flaws. The most popular case was probably Google vs Louis Vuitton. In this case, Google Ads advertised some bootlegged Louis Vuitton products… causing the luxury brand to “freak out”.
Anyway, the re-assessment of the Google Ads model, along with the massive use of uBlock Origin on browsers, surely made Google re-assess its economic model almost solely based on advertisement and exploiting its users’ data.
What will become Google without its advertising revenue?
No, Google is not likely to close down. Actually, the announcement of the company is only a new way to fight the decay of cookies over the last few years.
Does it mean that Google will stop making money off our backs? Of course not! In fact, the announcement of Google should have awaken the skeptical in you to answer the following question: how will the company survive financially? Indeed, up until now, Google was very fond of third-party cookies (especially through Google Analytics and Google Ads) to analyze its users’ behavior and feed its data vacuum.
As of today’s date, the Mountain View firm didn’t make anything official yet, but it’s highly likely that it will use cross-site trackers to continue collecting your data and display some personalized advertising.
Without getting into details, a cross-site tracker has the same impact as a third-party cookie (i.e. tracking you), except that no file is placed on your computer! Therefore, it’s way more difficult for a user to get rid of this advertising trick. In this way, Google could regain some additional market share and get back the users who disabled third-party cookies on their browser.
Here’s what you should keep in mind: unfortunately, Google leaders did not have an epiphany over the last few days. The business of the company remains the same, it’s only adjusted to new digital uses. The purpose of this whole operation is clearly to get back the data that you kept away from the company by exercising your privacy right on your browser.
As for alternative solutions implemented to get around the blocking of third-party cookies, we’ll know for sure when Google makes an official announcement… or when a future scandal breaks out in the media, just like the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica case.