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Tags: Privacy, Google, Cookies

Updated: May 10, 2019

Google announced that it will bring new privacy controls to Chrome, following the same path as Safari and Firefox but with a slightly different approach.

Safari’s ITP uses machine learning to evaluate whether a technology has tracking capabilities and limits the cookies' lifetime if this is the case, whether the cookie is first or third party.

Firefox’s approach is blunter. If you use their blocking solution, any domain classified as having tracking capabilities cannot set or read cookies.


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Google Chrome’s privacy changes

Google is approaching this because the classification of cookies as the first or third party needs to be done on the site. For the cookie to be usable outside of the domain where it was set, it must be classified as a third party. The updated Chrome features will allow users to delete or block just these cookies. As a default, all cookies will only be usable in a first-party context.

They are also adding the requirement of using secure connections to use cookies in a third-party context, which is a good development from a security standpoint. An interesting add-on is also on the way to Chrome, which will enable consumers to see what data has been used to target advertising. This is a very positive development and will hopefully shed some light on the practices in use currently.

Browser fingerprinting will also be blocked, which is good as this has been somewhat of a shady practice, and consumers have not had the choice to opt out of it.


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What are the effects of the changes?

Technically, this change is not a major issue. It requires ad tech vendors and site owners to add one value to the cookies for things to function as they have.

Will consumers start blocking/deleting more cookies due to this change? This remains to be seen, but I assume that most people who are wary about such things regularly delete their cookies or use ad blockers, so the impact will probably not be massive. Some impact can, however, be expected, and it will impact a wide range of products in the ecosystem. As Chrome is the dominant browser on the market, even minor effects will impact how the online advertising ecosystem functions.

Due to Google’s dominant position in the digital advertising market (Q12019 30,7 Billion USD) and since over 70% of these revenues come from their properties, i.e. Google Ads and YouTube, the question can be asked: are they abusing their dominant position on the market with this change? This will impact third-party ad tech, but how much will this impact Google’s properties? Data in search marketing is not as essential as in display advertising, and in YouTube, the use of third-party tech has been limited for a longer while. I’m sure that Google will not treat their cookies differently from the competition, which is calling for an antitrust lawsuit, but despite that, the changes that will come due to the new change will benefit Google.


Have they grown too big and dominant?

In general, the developments are positive, as they give consumers more choice about how data is being used and add transparency to the ecosystem.

However, as this could potentially negatively impact the other companies in the online advertising ecosystem, I think there will be quite a lot of debate around this in the coming weeks and months, and I would be surprised if there wouldn’t be some type of antitrust investigation into this. Could this be the starting point of Google having to divest some parts of its business to avoid such situations in the future? Have they grown too big and dominant?

I will be happy to continue the discussion on the topic.

Olli Järvilehto
By: Olli Järvilehto

Olli works at Relevant as COO.. Olli’s expertise are commercialisation of data in the programmatic advertising ecosystem, as well as demanding digital advertising and media development projects.


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