Google's Delay On Cookie Removal Offers Limited Reprieve For Publishers

Google yesterday said it had delayed a plan to end support for a technologythat advertisers use to track consumers as they visit the websites of publishers. The postponement will help to support the value of ad inventories, though publishers will still face pressures to develop other sources of revenue.

Instead of changing its popular Chrome browser to stop accepting third-party cookies used for tracking by early next year, Google’s new deadline is late 2023. The search giant has faced conflicting pressures from privacy advocates that want to eliminate online tracking and from the advertising industry, which relies on third-party cookies to improve their targeting.

The new timeline “will allow sufficient time for public discussion on the right solutions, continued engagement with regulators, and for publishers and the advertising industry to migrate their services,” according to Google. “This is important to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content.”
Publishers can be forgiven if they’re suspicious of Google’s proclaimed support for the publishing industry.



The company controls major parts of the world’s digital ad infrastructure and has a near-monopoly on internet search, inviting scrutiny from antitrust regulators. Publishers have argued that Google demonetizes journalism by artificially suppressing the value of their ad inventories, a claim the company has denied. 

The European Union this week joined the fray, announcing it had started a probe into Google’s plan to remove cookies as part of a bigger investigation into the company’s dominance in ad-tech. Germany’s competition authority this month said it was looking into Google’s News Showcase to determine whether the licensing platform was fair to all publishers. 
In the U.K., Google said it would give the country’s competition authority at least two months’ notice before removing cookies to allow time for further review and possible changes. Google’s pledge was part of a settlement of an investigation into complaints that the removal of cookies from Chrome would unfairly advantage its own products, such as internet search and YouTube.
The outcome of these investigations and settlements is hard to predict, as is the development of an alternative to third-party cookies. Publishers have confronted this issue with other tech companies, such as Apple. The iPhone maker already ended support for cookies in its Safari browser, and this month announced a slew of privacy measures that will make tracking more difficult.  
Publishers should still prepare for the eventual loss of third-party cookie tracking, and its potentially negative effect on their CPMs. Contextual ad targeting is expected to regain its former prominence if behavioral targeting becomes more difficult. Sources of reader revenue, such as subscriptions, events and ecommerce, will continue to be important sources of growth.
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