Google to move 1% of users to cookie-less Sandbox next year: “Advertisers shouldn’t wait on a ‘maybe’”

Google plans to migrate 1% of Chrome’s users to its ‘Privacy Sandbox’ in Q1 of 2024 as it continues its push for third-party cookie depreciation by the end of next year. But should brands be acting now?

Google’s long-delayed promise of going cookieless appears to finally have significant wheels in motion. In 2020, the tech giant announced a plan to go cookieless within the next two years.

Since the initial announcement, those plans have encountered a myriad of delays, with a new deadline of the “second half of 2024” established late last year.

Last week, Google made a series of announcements indicating that it is on track to finally go cookieless as promised. In Q1 of 2024, Google plans to disable third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome’s users and migrate them to its Privacy Sandbox.

Migration to the Privacy Sandbox

The Privacy Sandbox is Google’s ecosystem-wide initiative aimed at replacing third-party cookies with a more privacy-first approach whilst also ensuring an open web and giving businesses the data they need to succeed online. It aims to allow users to manage their interests and group them into cohorts based on browsing patterns, without a reliance on cookies.

By migrating 1% of Chrome’s users to the Privacy Sandbox, Google believes it will “support developers in conducting real world experiments that assess the readiness and effectiveness of their products without third-party cookies”.

In addition to the migration, in Q4 of 2023, Google intends to introduce the ability for developers to simulate Chrome third-party cookie deprecation for a configurable percentage of their users.

Anthony Chavez, VP of Privacy Sandbox, said in a press release: “This will enable developer-controlled testing that can benefit from higher levels of third party cookie-less traffic.”

Beyond the migration, the July release of Chrome 115 will see the Privacy Sandbox relevance and measurement APIs become available to all Chrome users.

Chavez said: “With this milestone, developers can utilise these APIs to conduct scaled, live-traffic testing, as they prepare to operate without third-party cookies.”

“Google should move on, as most of the adtech world already has”

The news from Google has received mixed reviews from experts, with a series of brands, executives and CEO’s providing comments to PMW. Some remain sceptical of Google’s commitment to its timeline while others believe the announcement represents the first real opportunity for brands to see what life will be like following Chrome’s impending cookie depreciation.

Paul Coggins, CEO of Adludio said: “Google continues to prevaricate on the demise of cookies (they are going/they are not, they are gone for some/not for others). It's exhausting and symptomatic of Google’s bigger fears around how it protects its own ad revenue streams.

“Google should move on, as most of the adtech world already has. A better ad experience coupled with data privacy for consumers is now the norm. The next, real frontier for innovation is how the rapidly evolving world of AI is impacting ad creativity and delivery.”

Oliver Whitten, COO at Adform, added: “While it's promising to see that Google is finally ready to test 1% of its users in a cookieless environment, this isn't the first time we’ve heard timelines from Google. They’ve had the ad market running from pillar to post with little understanding of the outcome - so it's no wonder that not everyone is prepared.

“There is still a lack of clarity around aspects of the sandbox and advertisers shouldn’t wait on a ‘maybe’. Instead, they should adopt technologies that already exist today for cookieless environments like Safari and Firefox to build their strategies. Despite delays, cookie depreciation on Chrome will eventually come and advertisers should prepare by acting now.”

“While 1% might seem low, it is a good enough sample to give us a clear understanding of what cookie deprecation will look like”

Lukasz Wlodarczyk, VP of Programmatic Ecosystem Growth & Innovation at RTB House said: “Many active participants in the Protected Audiences API have had trouble understanding the solutions on offer so far. This is what makes this announcement so significant. We need to test in a completely cookieless world to truly understand how to prepare, which we’ve been unable to replicate on Chrome to date. While 1% might seem low, it is a good enough sample to give us a clear understanding of what cookie deprecation will look like.

"It also provides an opportunity to give feedback to Google on the success of the solution, to effectively prepare for the full scale removal. While the update is welcomed, it might give others the much needed reminder that the cookieless world isn’t far off, which cannot be ignored. I imagine it will encourage SSPs and other adtech providers to assess whether they are prepared, and if not, it’s clear that they must take it more seriously.”

Tim Geenen, Co-Founder and CEO of Rayn, added: “Google is sending the right signals here - it’s obviously very challenging to re-architect the way audience management has been done for so long. The question is still what the performance tradeoff is between strong first party data and contextual driven cohorts. Publishers keep investing in increasing their first party data, but especially in Europe a large part of their inventory isn’t consumed by people that have disclosed their identities.

“What is most important is that consumer’s privacy is respected, and as the industry moves away from individual tracking, synthetic cohorts, context, and moments will be key measures advertisers use to understand audiences and drive conversion when looking for scale.”

Travis Clinger, Senior Vice President of Addressability and Ecosystem at LiveRamp, concluded: “Google’s update provides further clarity for the ecosystem, and encourages stakeholders who have not yet begun their own cookieless transitions to start now. Cookieless marketers are already benefiting from more accurate reach, measurement, and better ROAS [Return on Advertising Spend] across the internet as a result of cutting-edge integrations and partnerships.”