Google’s Third-Party Cookie Problem

Another week, another antitrust headache for Google.

This time, it’s the EU bringing the heat over Google’s decision to cut support for third-party cookies in Chrome, the world’s dominant web browser. The bloc’s antitrust chief confirmed this week that the cookie issue is within the scope of a large Google investigation underway.

The EU has already levied record fines topping $9 billion against Google for past anticompetitive behavior, including a 2.4 euro fine ($2.7 billion) — the largest at the time — for abusing its search dominance to favor its shopping comparison tool over the competition. The EU levied a $5 billion fine a year later amid allegations that Google improperly used its Android heft to give its own services an advantage. Clearly, these punishments have done a ton to deter Google from questionable business practices.

Also this week, Gannett takes a multi-pronged approach to preparing for a post-cookie future, a chair from the W3C dishes on how the standards body is debating the Privacy Sandbox and Adobe hops aboard Epsilon’s CORE ID train.

It’s been a busy week. Let’s dig in.

More antitrust

Google’s plan to sunset third-party cookies is being investigated by the European Commission as part of an antitrust probe, according to Margrethe Vestager, the bloc’s antitrust chief. It’s unclear whether that means that Google’s FLoC proposal, its cookieless ad-targeting alternative, would also fall within the investigation’s scope — as well as other Privacy Sandbox proposals.

It was revealed in January that the EU is examining how Google collects, uses and monetizes data in one investigation, and it’s studying Google’s business practices in the adtech value chain in another.

The UK is also investigating Google’s plan to withdraw support for third-party cookies, and the issue has wormed its way into a state-level antitrust lawsuit led by Texas. “Google’s upcoming cookie changes in the name of privacy are a ruse to further Google’s long-standing plan to advantage itself by creating a closed ecosystem out of the open web,” the state’s complaint charges.

Google faces a litany of other antitrust lawsuits for a range of offenses from the US federal government, states and even other publishers. Here’s a running list.

Gannett prepares for cookieless future

Gannett would love to be spending much of its time trying to increase its digital subscribers tenfold by 2025, but instead, it’s also preparing for life without cookies. That involves a smorgasbord of projects.

For example, the publisher is participating in FLoC testing, which began in late March, and expanding its audience segments to enable easier contextual targeting. It will also test the third-party cookie alternatives NewsPass ID and Verizon Media ConnectID.

But it’s working hardest to collect more first-party data. Gannett owns more than 100 daily newspapers, including USA Today, the Arizona Republic and the Palm Beach Post, but logged-in authenticated users only account for 15 percent of page views on their websites. “We are very much an identity-focused organization,” Michael Kuntz, the chief operating officer of national sales at USA Today, told Digiday.

Inside the W3C

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a web-standards–writing body, had a fairly low profile before Google announced its plans to phase out third-party cookies. As Google and the industry began working toward solutions for a cookieless future, the W3C’s Improving Web Advertising Business Group (IWABG) offered a platform for companies to give feedback and contribute to the Privacy Sandbox proposals.

Guiding the dialogue among the various technologists is Wendy Seltzer, IWABG chair and W3C’s counsel and strategy lead. In this Q&A, she talks about what it’s like debating the Privacy Sandbox proposals and how long it would actually take for one to become a web standard. (Spoiler: It’s probably not gonna happen anytime soon.)

Publicis makes more identity moves

In a bid to help clients prepare for life sans cookies, Publicis-owned Epsilon is expanding access to its identity tool Core ID with an integration with Adobe Experience Platform. Publicis Sapient, its digital transformation consultancy, is also adding Core ID to its worldwide portfolio, further deepening the holding company’s Adobe relationship.

Core ID ties Epsilon’s first-party database to marketers’ first-party data and user browsing behavior. The Adobe connection means that advertisers that use Adobe’s Real-Time Customer Profiles can now use Core ID to enrich their first-party data. They can then build a “people-based identity that is more accurate, actionable and future-proof, even with the imminent changes to IDFA and deprecation of third-party cookies next year,” says Wayne Townsend, Epsilon’s chief strategic growth officer.

Last month, we learned that Epsilon would make Core ID interoperable with Unified ID 2.0, the open-source identifier launched by The Trade Desk. In that mashup, all Trade Desk users will get access to Core ID on a self-serve basis rather than through Epsilon’s managed services.

That’s it for now. See you next week!