It turns out that reinventing one of the cornerstones of the modern web is, um, hard. Google initially promised that it would stop using cookies to track users for advertising purposes in Chrome by early 2022 as part of the Privacy Sandbox initiative. So yeah, that's not happening: Google is now updating its target to "late 2023."
There's a lot of moving parts here. Google's replacement for the cookie is a more anonymized system called Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC. While the company has made some impressive progress in implementing it, currently in testing for a small amount of Chrome users, privacy advocates like the EFF aren't impressed, claiming that the new system is rife with issues that could result in discrimination and predatory targetting. Google's competitors, in both the browser market and the general web, say they aren't interested in switching.
Either Google wasn't expecting the vitriol that its initial rollout received, or it's running into more internal roadblocks than it expected. "We believe the web community needs to come together to develop a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on the web," says Vinay Goel, Google's Chrome Privacy Engineering Director.
To "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," Google is pushing its target for FLoC mechanisms to be ready in Chrome by late 2022. That would allow the developer and publisher community to transition away from third-party cookies, with the final phase-out occurring in a three-month period ending in late 2023.
At this point, the likelihood of Google leading the charge to a web-wide cookie alternative seems a lot less likely than it did before. It'll take a lot of work to make FLoC a success, both in terms of adoption and the acceptance of privacy advocates. Otherwise we might have another WEBP on our hands.
Image credit: Arun Thomas