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Google initially proclaimed that it would end third party cookies on its Chrome browser by January 2022. However, in June of 2021, Google announced a revised timeline for the removal of third party cookies, being late 2023. The removal of third party cookies may impact how your business advertises and your privacy obligations in doing so. 

This article discusses the definition of cookies, privacy obligations when using cookies and how Google’s changes may affect your business. 

What Are Cookies?

Cookies are a packet of files that are sent to your computer and stored inside your web browser. The packet is then sent back to the sender. Cookies help websites track your visits and activity and can be used for several purposes. For example, businesses can use cookies to remember the items you put in your online shopping cart. They can also recognise when you return to a website and pre-fill your information based on previous inputs. 

Cookies can also be used for targeted advertising and tracking you across the internet. An example of targeted advertising is displaying relevant ads on your social media feed for brands whose websites you visited earlier that day. 

What Do You Need to Consider When Using Cookies for Advertising?

Your business may use cookies on your website or online services to help provide functionality. Your business may also use cookies for advertising. If you use third-party cookies on the Chrome browser for advertising, you need to be aware of privacy requirements. The privacy laws that apply to you will determine your privacy obligations. 

For example, in Australia, the federal Privacy Act regulates the use of cookies that collect personally identifiable information. Whereas in the European Union (EU), while the General Data Protection Regulation similarly regulates cookies, the EU also has cookie specific laws that you need to consider.

Privacy laws and cookie laws commonly require that you are clear about your use of cookies. For example, they may oblige you to disclose your use of cookies in your privacy policy. Furthermore, they may mandate the use of a specific cookie pop-up notice. No matter what, you should explain that third parties provide cookies and what you use the cookies for. The aim is to be transparent so your users can make an informed decision about the privacy of their information.

Depending on the applicable laws, you may also need to obtain user consent to use any cookies. For example, this means you will need consent to use retargeting third party cookies. You will likely also need to explain to the user that they can choose to opt-out of cookies. You should detail how they can do this, such as to obtain consent or allow for an opt-out, you may include a granular cookie consent with toggle buttons. These permit the user to toggle third-party cookies on or off. If you do not have to obtain consent, you may include a note that the person may block cookies using their web browser’s functionality.

What Changes Will You Need to Make as Google Phases Out Third Party Cookies?

The benefit of Google pushing out the date for the removal of third-party cookies is that you have more time to prepare. However, as Google phases out third party cookies, you will need to keep in mind three key things. These are as follows:

  1. how you will advertise online after Google removes third party cookies;
  2. any privacy obligations which will attach to your new online advertising approach and whether you are compliant with these; and
  3. any new laws introduced to address Google’s new advertising offering and whether you are compliant with these.

Will There Be New Advertising Options?

Following Google’s decision, the company stated it intends to supply a new advertising option that is almost as effective but less invasive of user data. Therefore, in choosing a new method for online advertising, you may wish to consider Google’s plan for a new option. Based on Google’s most recent commentary, the new offering will allow your company to target groups with common interests. This is a shift away from targeting a specific individual, which is how their current model works. The idea is that the user’s personal information would largely stay on their device, and Google would add them to a group based on Google’s data about them. As an advertiser, you can then choose the type of groups you wish to target. This is very similar to Facebook’s advertising approach. 

In confirming that your use of a new online advertising method complies with applicable privacy laws, you will need to consider whether your new approach allows you to identify individuals or instead relies on the use of anonymised data. Suppose the data you are using is anonymised to the point that there is no reasonable likelihood of re-identifying any one person. In that case, you may be able to avoid the need to comply with privacy and data protection laws. 

Despite the above, it is important to note jurisdictions may introduce laws to regulate the use of Google’s new offering. This is because while you should not be able to identify a specific person when using Google’s proposed alternative, the tech giant will still be able to identify those people so as to be able to group them. Therefore, Google will still track and target individuals with advertising, only it will be as part of a group. For these reasons, lawmakers may decide to introduce specific laws which address these continuing risks.

Key Takeaways

Google has pushed out the date for its intended removal of third party cookies. However, the plan to remove third party cookies is still in place, and their removal will likely impact your online advertising. As you transition to new advertising methods, you will need to consider your privacy obligations and whether you are compliant with them. You should also monitor for specific laws introduced to address the use of alternate advertising options, such as the new offering Google intends to provide. 

If you need help understanding your current and future obligations with respect to third party cookies, get in touch with LegalVision’s privacy lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are cookies?

Cookies are a packet of files that are sent to your computer and stored inside your web browser. The packet is then sent back to the sender. Cookies help websites track your visits and activity and can be used for several purposes.

Will there be new advertising options?

Following Google’s decision, the company stated it intends to supply a new advertising option that is almost as effective but less invasive of user data. Based on Google’s most recent commentary, the new offering will allow your company to target groups with common interests.

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