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Google's Third-Party Cookie Phase-Out: A Closer Look

Pending resolution with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), Google will phase out third-party cookies in Chrome by the second half of 2024. As you can imagine, this will have a major impact on businesses and advertisers.

Here's a breakdown of the key points:


First v. Third Party Cookies

With this impending phase out, it is important to understand the difference between first-party and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are directly stored by the website visited and allow website owners to collect analytics data, remember language settings, and perform other useful functions that provide a good user experience. On the other hand, third-party cookies are created by domains that are not the website visited, and usually used for online-advertising purposes and placed on a website through a script or tag.


Google Third-Party Phase Out: What's Happening?

As mentioned, Google Chrome is phasing out third-party cookies, which are used to track users across different websites for targeted advertising. This phase-out is part of Google's Privacy Sandbox initiative, which aims to improve user privacy while still allowing for effective advertising. This change may disproportionately affect smaller businesses that rely on third-party cookies for audience targeting. As of January 2024, Google has limited third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users globally. They plan to increase this to 100% by Q3 2024, unless concerns from the CMA persist.



Google’s Third-Party Cookie Replacement

Google's has proposed alternatives that will live within Google’s Privacy Sandbox tools. This includes tools like the Protected Audience API which addresses remarketing challenges. This API allows advertisers to send reminders to users about sites and products they have shown interest in without third-party cookies. Google also has introduced the Topics API, which allows for interest-based advertising (IBA) without having to track the sites a user visits. However, many are concerned about Google’s transparency surrounding these APIs and the potential favor this phase-out will show towards Google’s own advertising products.


Prepare for third-party cookie phase out

  1. Audit your third-party cookie usage.
  2. Test for breakage.
  3. For cross-site cookies, which are used for things such as an embedded element on a webpage, consider using the Partitioned attribute with CHIPS.
  4. For cross-site cookies across a small group of meaningfully linked sites, consider Related Website Sets.
  5. For other third-party cookie use cases, migrate to the relevant web APIs.

Businesses should audit their reliance on third-party cookies and identify areas where they can transition to first-party data collection. This can be done through website forms, newsletters, and loyalty programs.

Other potential solutions include contextual targeting, which involves placing ads relevant to website content, and Google’s Topics API to access a user’s topics of interest without revealing additional information about the user's browsing activity.


Specific Application Impacts

Meta Cookies

Meta uses both third-party and first-party cookies. As third-party cookies are phased out this year, we anticipate Meta will present new solutions and best practices. For now, we recommend ensuring that first-party cookies are enabled in your Meta Pixel. You can find this setting in the Cookie Usage section of the Events Manager. Additionally, we recommend connecting the Conversions API which is designed to improve reliability between your marketing data and Meta. We will update this blog as more updates are shared by Meta.

Microsoft Ads and HotJar

While there are many applications and tools that will feel the impact of this phase-out, Google will not consider Microsoft Ads to be third-party. 

HotJar will also not be affected by Google’s phase-out, as the cookies it sets are already first-party. 

Google Analytics 4 & Google Ads

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) relies on first-party cookies to run. That being said, GA4 can end up collecting third-party data for things such as remarketing. The implementation of the Protected Audience API should lessen the amount of third-party data in GA4.

Google Ads will also be impacted by the phasing out of third-party cookies. Many advertisers are concerned about targeting accuracy, ads reaching irrelevant audiences, and measurement challenges for campaigns. Google’s Topics API should allow for some level of contextual targeting without relying on individual user tracking.

Overall, Google Ads and GA4 are actively developing and implementing solutions to help advertisers adapt. It’s imperative that advertisers stay informed about these changes and adjust their strategies accordingly. This will involve pivoting to first-party data, adopting new targeting solutions, and optimizing for conversions within their own website or app.


The third-party cookie phase-out will indeed impact StackAdapt, a programmatic advertising platform. StackAdapt heavily relies on third-party cookies for audience targeting and campaign measurement. Similar to Google Ads, advertisers are most concerned about reduced targeting accuracy. However, StackAdapt has been preparing for this phase-out and offers alternative approaches to third-party data collection, such as contextual targeting and behavioral targeting. Advertisers using StackAdapt should also be prepared to adjust their strategies and embrace a more cookieless approach for their campaigns.


Similar to Meta, LinkedIn uses both first- and third-party cookies. We recommend updating your LinkedIn Insight Tag to enable first-party cookies. This will be an important step in mitigating the impact of the upcoming phase-out. By enabling first-party cookies, LinkedIn can track information using data stored on your own domain. This can be done by attaching a click ID to the end of your landing page URLs. 

However, it's important to note that this approach might not fully replicate the capabilities of third-party cookies. There could be limitations in terms of attribution and retargeting, in which case we will update this blog with any updates.


United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority

According to the UK's CMA, “Google cannot proceed with third-party cookie deprecation until our concerns are resolved. Once a resolution is achieved, Google will be able to remove third-party cookies without delay. Subject to our concerns being resolved, Google intends to deprecate third-party cookies in the second half of 2024.”

As of February 5, 2024, the CMA has outlined four key requests to Google in preparation for the third-party cookie deprecation:

  • Ensure that Privacy Sandbox proposals do not reinforce the existing market position of Google’s advertising products and services.
  • Address specific design issues with Privacy Sandbox tools, including concerns about how the Topics API alternative may disadvantage small ad tech firms.
  • Clarify long-term governance arrangements for Privacy Sandbox.
  • Provide assurances for the future development of Privacy Sandbox tools and commit to ongoing engagement with industry stakeholders.

The CMA is currently working with Google to resolve these issues and will report on the search engine’s progress in its next quarterly update, which is due at the end of April.

The third-party cookie phase-out presents both challenges and opportunities. By focusing on first-party data collection and embracing new targeting methods, businesses can adapt to the changing landscape and continue to reach their target audience effectively. It's important to stay informed about the latest developments and adjust strategies accordingly. The CMA's involvement adds some uncertainty to the timeline, so keep an eye on updates in late April. 


We know these changes can be confusing and complicated to keep up with. That’s why our team of analytics experts is here to offer you support. If you want to learn more about our offerings, contact today!

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About the author

Natalie Marinack

Natalie graduated from Purdue University with degrees in Data Visualization and Web Development & Design. She creates projects with an emphasis on interactivity, accessibility, and insight.

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