Google, through a blogpost shared an updated timeline for Privacy Sandbox milestones, including a fresh set of dates to phase out third party cookies. Launched by Chrome in 2019, the Privacy Sandbox is supposed to be a collaborative, open-source effort to develop a new set of web standards to define an Open Web Platform that replaces legacy and data-intensive mechanisms with safer solutions to protect consumers' privacy.
It is important to note that the Privacy Sandbox initiative covers preventing covert tracking, verifying consumer’s authenticity, showing relevant content, and advertising. More importantly, measure digital ads in an anonymised way. A very tall order.
Despite offering more than 30 proposals along with an active engagement with all the industry bodies across brands, platforms, and publishers, the reality is that the Privacy Sandbox failed to reach an admissible consensus from the industry for total deployment.
This falls into two broad areas.
1. On March 23, 2021, Google’s current Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) tests were declared non-compliant as per the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) standards. Questions were raised about whether a browser assigning users into cohorts counts as a use of personal data—without consent—may be a privacy violation. Testing of FLoCs was stopped across EU nations and Google could run these tests only in the USA and in APAC. Until now, there are no plans as to when the testing will begin in Europe.
2. On January 8, 2021, United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced its formal investigation of the Privacy Sandbox. Google blog said that it welcomed 'the opportunity to engage with a regulator with the mandate to promote competition for the benefit of consumers.' These commitments include zero self-preferencing and no data advantage for Google advertising products apart from involving the industry for a much deeper consultation and collaboration. This would not have concluded before the end of 2021.
Privacy Sandbox needs more work to gain industry acceptance and adoption. It requires more discussion; more testing and be ready for scaled-up adoption. This is also now linked to satisfactory clearance from the CMA, UK before anything can be rolled out.
What does this mean for the industry?
1. This does not mean that the industry will have to wait for the next 24 months and watch Google launch the new Privacy Sandbox through another blog. This is an active industry with regulatory engagement, starting now for the next two years.
2. Once the testing is complete, publishers and the advertising industry will get nine months to migrate their services. Google will then, over a period of three months, phase out the support of third party cookies in late 2023.
Industry must take this opportunity to prepare well. The objectives of the Privacy Sandbox cannot be faulted. It is the path to get there that requires more collaboration and consultation. Should Google prefer to avoid the same mistakes once again and accelerate the roll-out, in my view, they need to take two steps.
1. Browser-based cohorts is a non-starter. We need to move to universally codified cohorts for acceptance and adoption. The industry needs to spend more time to standardise this.
2. In the US, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently launched an 'Advertiser to Audience' programmatic transparency audit. Perhaps a deeper discussion is required on how there can be zero self-preferencing and no unfair advantage for Google’s advertising products.
Now we have good 24 months to do this properly. In partnership with Google.
The writer is a Founder and CEO of Singapore-headquartered blockchain solutions provider Aqilliz
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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