Few experts expect that big tech companies will become any less omnipotent because of the changes. In fact, the end of third-party cookies could strengthen their businesses.
“If your browser got rid of third-party cookies, then your visits to typical sites that show ads, whether it’s a news site, a blog, or whatever, those sites lose some of the ability to place and measure their ads,” says Don Marti, vice president of ecosystem innovation at the advertising service company CafeMedia. “But a big platform site like Facebook or YouTube actually does not depend on a third-party cookie; they depend on having the user logged in to that environment.”
“The terrible scenario is what happens if the independent content sites break but Facebook and YouTube don’t?” he says.
Jimmy Secretan, vice president of ads and premium services at Brave, says this about Google: “Even with the elimination of third-party cookies, their revenue stream will likely be fine.”
Google’s proposed alternative to third-party cookies, FLoC, is designed to target ads without so many outside companies storing information about you. Your browser might communicate that “this person is one of a cohort of people who looks at steak recipes, or classic rock, or real estate, or fitness,” and allow in related ads. But sites themselves wouldn’t be able to leave cookies in your browser that allow others to see which sites you’ve visited.
A major antitrust lawsuit filed by Texas and other states over Google’s dominance in the online advertising market also expects the search giant’s position of power will not change in a world without third-party cookies. “Google’s entire business model is to collect comprehensive data about every user in the service of brokering targeted ad sales. It then uses privacy concerns as an excuse to advantage itself over its competitors,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The planned elimination of third-party cookies from Google’s dominant browser, Chrome, is also justified on privacy grounds, but the effect is to increase information asymmetries between Google and its competitors.”
Asked about the case, Temkin at Google said: “Look, a company this large is getting a lot of attention, and our practices are under a great deal of scrutiny. And we obviously need to adapt and respect what’s going on there.”
Apple has made a very public embrace of privacy as a differentiator, but experts say the company still collects plenty of user data. “It’s like Apple trying to claim that their platform is privacy,” says Montulli, the inventor of cookies. “Well, they have their own advertising IDs; all they’ve done is shifted from using cookies. What they actually did was create their own advertising ID that’s embedded in the phone, and created their own advertising network.”
Apple’s Wilander, the security and privacy engineer working on the Safari browser changes, and company spokespeople declined to answer questions.