Google’s cookie ban and FLoC, explained

Googles cookie ban and FLoC explained - Hans Neleman / WIRED

Google’s cookie ban and FLoC, explained
WIRED UK, May 25, 2021
By Matt Burgess

“Google Chrome will get rid of third-party cookies in 2022. There’s a lot that still needs to be worked out”


At some point next year, Google Chrome will stop using third-party cookies. It’s a move that could upend the global advertising and publishing industries – and it has major implications for your privacy.


Google isn’t hanging the advertising industry out to dry. Its replacement for third-party cookies comes in the form of a set of APIs dubbed the Privacy Sandbox. But, with less than a year to go, there are still a lot of big questions that need answering. Parts of Google’s plan have drawn the attention of regulators who are investigating whether the changes may ultimately strengthen its position in the online advertising market. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s Google actually changing about third-party cookies?

Since third-party cookies emerged as a way to track people online, back in the 1990s, they’ve grown to be one of the scourges of the internet. If you’re using Chrome at the moment then the websites you visit will add cookies to your device. They come in two forms: first- and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are placed there by the website you are visiting and are generally useful – they remember if you’re logged in or not, for example.


Third-party cookies are added to your device by other parties the website you’re visiting has made agreements with. Third-party cookies, which can be placed in ads, can track you as you move around the web. They build a profile of you by gathering data on your browsing history and linking it to an identifier that’s attached to your name.


This highly-personalised, intrusive, approach is then used to show you targeted adverts – that’s why that pair of jeans you looked at last week are now stalking you around the web, or why a shop can know you’re pregnant before you’ve told your family. But tracking people using third-party cookies has been going out of fashion for years: both Firefox and Safari have introduced blockers to actively stop them from working.


Google is following its rivals. In January 2020 it announced that it would begin phasing out cookies and replace them with something new. “Privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete,” said Justin Schuh, director of Chrome engineering at Google, when the announcement was made.

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About the Author:

Matt Burgess is the deputy digital editor at WIRED [UK], covering cybersecurity, big tech, and everything in-between. He has written two books: a short biography of Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and a guide, aimed at journalists, to the UK’s Freedom of Information Act.

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