5th March 2021

POV: Google Identifiers


This week Google announced in a blog post titled ‘charting a course towards a privacy-first web’ that once third-party cookies are phased out, it will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will such identifiers be used in their products.

Details and Implications:

Last year Google announced its intention to remove support for third-party cookies in Chrome, its web browser. This followed the actions of both Apple with Safari and also Firefox in moves that heralded the beginning of the ‘cookieless future’.

The aim was to stop users being tracked by third-party cookies across the web and so end the stream of data about what sites they had been to and what content they had viewed, which is used by advertisers to target digital ads to relevant audiences.

At the same time, Google began working on the Privacy Sandbox initiative – ‘a secure environment for personalization intended to protect user privacy’ as an industry initiative. This included such ideas as user data that is shared with websites and advertisers being minimized by anonymously aggregating user information and keeping much more user information on-device only. These initiative are still ongoing.

Large digital players such as Google and Facebook have their own identifiers for users in their own ecosystems (used when logging into Gmail or Facebook etc) and the question had been open as to whether a more universal identifier would be built and used across the wider web as a way of targeting ads.

The latest announcement by Google has ended that speculation.

The impact will be felt outside of these ecosystems on media inventory that Google does not own but manages via solutions such as the AdX ad exchange or the Google Display Network. In these places advertisers will be losing a rich source of data via the loss of third-party cookies and will not be getting a replacement in the form of a universal identifier. This places greater emphasis on an advertiser owning its own first party data to be able to enhance the targeting capabilities that are on offer.

The announcement could also strengthen the position of Google and others who have their own identifiers and operate ecosystems where consumers spend a lot of their time logged in – because they will continue to use these identifiers to target ads to these consumers inside these ecosystems. For Google this will focus on YouTube and Search where marketers will be able to continue to target consumers based on Google’s logged in and consented user activity via the Google Audiences product.


This is big news but the exact, detailed implications and solutions will take some time to filter through. There is no immediate impact as Chrome and Google’s ad products will continue to support third party cookies until solutions from the Privacy Sandbox Initiative are ready, so changes will come over time. The change is also not 100% unexpected as the industry moves towards a more ‘privacy first’ footing around the use of data following the implementation of new regulations by governments around the world - including GDPR and CCPA. What everyone is watching with interest is how the solution to the challenge is being met, and in that context, this could be a pivotal moment.

Further Reading:

Google blog post | Digiday | The Verge | Bloomberg |

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