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What Google Chrome’s plan to phase out third-party cookies in 2025 means for marketers

• Written by Hricha Shandily
Google Chrome is phasing out third-party cookies

Audience insight is a digital marketer’s biggest ammunition. The right set of information enables us to show the right messages to the right people at the right time.

It’s 2024, and we have multiple tools at our disposal to bring our visions to life, and secure quick leads, conversions, and sales. Google has built a lucrative playground for digital marketers after decades of carefully constructing a system of extracting valuable information from its widespread users on one hand and monetizing it through digital marketers on the other hand.

For a long time, us digital marketers haven’t had to do a lot of heavy lifting to reach that set of right people at the right time –– we have indeed been spoiled.

Technology is our biggest hand-holder in making highly personalized levels of digital marketing possible. When you see a highly personalized or retargeted ad chasing you across multiple web pages and devices –– probably from a shoe you left behind in a shopping cart –– it is the result of a vast system of observing, tracking, and information passing. And it is all made possible with something called the third-party cookies.

However, there are a ton of issues with these third-party cookies which have been operating at the price of privacy and the world has been reacting since a long time. After being taken down by other browsers like Firefox and Safari, they are now being phased out by marketers’ favorite – Google Chrome.

Chrome stands for ~65% of the global browser traffic and, in January 2024, it stopped using third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users completely. This portion is expected to grow to 100% early next year.

This signals towards information loss (loss of audience context), requiring digital marketers to look at newer ways of advertising and marketing. The mountains of information –– sourced through Google –– that’s been the digital marketer’s dearest asset is slowly taking a hit, and it’s the right time to respond and adjust. Let’s explore.

  1. What are third-party cookies?
    1. How Google’s services fit into all this?
  2. Why is Google phasing out third-party cookies?
  3. What does this mean for digital marketers?
    1. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is not going anywhere
    2. The quality bar is rising higher
    3. Reliance on inbound marketing is increasing
  4. How to tackle this as digital marketers?
    1. Replacing potential evasion with customer-centricity
    2. Replacing reaction with proaction
    3. Replacing KPI-prediction with visionary marketing
    4. Replacing privacy-invasion with psychographic-analysis
  5. What to do as digital marketers?
    1. Plan your journey from three to zero
      1. First-party data
      2. Zero-party data
    2. Diversify advertising platforms
      1. Social media platforms
      2. Search engines
      3. Programmatic advertising enabled platforms
      4. Contextual advertising
    3. Improve your content game
    4. Directly engage with your customers
    5. Embrace privacy-first analytics tools
  6. Conclusion

What are third-party cookies?

When you visit a website that uses third-party advertising or tracking services (like Google Analytics) or has a third-party embed (like a YouTube video), they set a cookie (bits of tracking code) on your browser with a unique tracking ID.

As opposed to first-party cookies that track user interactions within the scope of the website domain itself and also provide a good user experience by remembering their sessions or their carts, third-party cookies have a much broader scope.

Third-party cookies uniquely attach themselves to each user, stay on their browser (Google Chrome, for example), and track them through other web pages they visit. Whenever the user visits a new website that also employs code snippets from the same advertising or analytics services, the cookie notes it and updates the user’s ‘profile’.

Eventually, the said services are able to put pieces together and map a user’s entire journey, understand their behaviors, and predict their future behaviors as well.

How Google’s services fit into all this?

Consider this: most of the domains on the web are tracked by Google, the most used web analytics platform belongs to Google, the sponsored ads are run by Google, and it all extends to other devices because of the vast network of Android, and Google’s irreplaceable mobile apps.

This means that Google does a terrific job at tracking every single digital footprint we make. It is almost impossible to not have interacted with either of these tools, whether directly or indirectly, and have had a third-party cookie implanted on our browser or device. This, in turn, enables “user profiling”, and a deep understanding and prediction of their behaviors.

By the way, Google is even trying to acquire Hubspot now. Guess the intent?

So this is how Google’s tools for digital marketers –– like Google Ads and Google Analytics –– are so robust in nature. They even have a pretty accurate prediction of clickthrough rates on Google Ads, which is an important metric for advertisers –– something made possible with behavioral prediction. Because of such a robust infrastructure, digital marketers are able to run hyper-targeted ads, improve content personalization, and get deep behavioral insights for their audiences.

So what went wrong?

Why is Google phasing out third-party cookies?

Short answer: It’s because of the privacy concerns arising around the web, and Google platforms receiving constant pressure from regulatory bodies to adopt more privacy-friendly practices.

Regulatory bodies like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) work to protect individual privacy by regulating the collection, processing, and usage of personal information by online businesses.

Long answer: In 2020, Google announced that it’s working towards making third-party cookies obsolete. In late 2023, it announced that the phase-out has begun with it testing the new changes with 1% of Chrome users. They’re on track to phase it all out by early 2025.

Some quick background: This radical shift is the result of a larger movement against “surveillance capitalism”. It is a concept that talks about incursive and unconsented tracking of people’s personal experiences to be used as raw materials in creating behavioral data. This data gives an understanding of how a certain set of people behave, and gives a fair prediction of their future behaviors as well.

This insight is used to predict business outcomes better. In other words, Google has repeatedly proved to be monitoring and profiling users without their explicit knowledge and consent, and using the collected behavioral data to improve its advertising and other services for marketers –– the only place, amongst their suite of products, that they charge for their services.

Google’s extensive usage of third-party cookies has been one of the biggest enablers of surveillance capitalism. And the governments, regulatory bodies, as well as digital privacy advocates are demanding a safer internet space for all. Here’s a quote from Google itself:

We’re developing techniques to detect and mitigate covert tracking and workarounds by launching new anti-fingerprinting measures to discourage these kinds > of deceptive and intrusive techniques.

~ Said Google itself.

Hence, Google Chrome is pulling up its socks in an attempt to emerge as a more privacy-friendly browsing space for everyone. Therefore, digital marketers are left with no choice but to pull up their socks as well. And it has to be done now.

What does this mean for digital marketers?

It means that it’s time to change up the usual approach and step out of our set ways. Here are some quick pointers to note:

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is not going anywhere

You’ll only have to adjust to a more privacy-friendly approach. If you still wish to stick to Google, check out their Privacy Sandbox APIs for private advertising.

The quality bar is rising higher

Lower dependance on hyper targeted and remarketing campaigns means a higher pressure on standing out as a brand, and building stronger and sustainable relationships with customers.

Reliance on inbound marketing is increasing

We’ll need to lean more towards inbound marketing as it becomes crucial to attract customers through content they find valuable and brand values they find relatable.

How to tackle this as digital marketers?

Firstly, it’s crucial to acknowledge that exponentially more and more users are becoming privacy-sensitive and aware and may not be very merry about any sorts of privacy-invasive techniques that a brand associates itself with.

In order to embrace and adjust according to the current paradigm shift, while keeping a long-term and sustainable brand’s perspective, there are a couple of approaches that are important to discuss.

Replacing potential evasion with customer-centricity

As privacy-invasive systems are being torn down, there’s been a very clever shift to privacy-evasive systems. Take the examples of these initiatives:

  • Unified ID 2.0: This initiative masks the personally identifiable information of browser-users and still claims to meet a marketer’s audience targeting and remarketing needs, without much compromise.
  • Federal Learning of Cohorts (FLoC): This initiative by Google aims to replace individual tracking with cohort based tracking. So individuals get blended with larger groups of thousands of people, and don’t feel the pressure of having personally identifiable information tracked. We still don’t know how this would be pulled off behind the scenes though.

As marketers, it could be tempting to simply adopt such initiatives because they let us keep our existing advertising methods as is, but they still miss the point of consumers wanting to not be tracked at all, and not shown incursive (creepy) advertisements at all.

Having said that, there may be some merit to such systems but it’s yet to be discovered (or proved) –– and that can only happen with time. Hence, our best suggestion here would be to observe and learn the intricacies of such privacy-evasive systems first and apply them to your advertising requirements mindfully, if at all.

Replacing reaction with proaction

Embrace privacy by design. This is an approach that proactively and carefully integrates privacy-friendly measures in all the marketing initiatives we undertake, and even the IT infrastructure our teams build to support a cloud product.

By actively integrating data protection measures, we can reduce the risk of data breaches, and build stronger trust with customers, while automatically staying compliant with regulations like the GDPR and CCPA.

Ensure that customer data is handled with the utmost care and security while planning for analytics, campaigns, targeting strategies, and other data collection methods.

Prioritize consent-based marketing practices, utilize first-party data more effectively, and transparently communicate how customer information is collected, used, and protected.

Such proactive measures not only enhance customer trust and brand perceptions, but also improve the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.

Replacing KPI-prediction with visionary marketing

Back to basics: Prediction arises from the need to know everything beforehand and to be able to choose the most ideal actions in order to guarantee success. Whereas, vision is about defining how one thinks things should be and taking the most ideal actions in order to make it happen.

The overdependence on hyper targeted advertising stems from a structure of surveillance capitalism that was created in the first place to ensure predictions and guarantees of certain business/marketing outcomes. The issue is, this is not sustainable at all because it comes at the price of humanity’s privacy; and when humanity notices, it doesn’t let it thrive.

So actively rejecting such systems is more than a question of ethics –– it’s purely logical. The only other thing left to replace this inherent need of predicting outcomes is vision based marketing. In a nutshell, visionary marketing is the type of marketing that serves as a careful extension of a company’s mission and purpose, and embodies the vision that the company imagines for its customers.

Visionary marketing doesn’t end at competing for impressions and clicks on the web, and generally takes the form of brand differentiation. The ideal aspiration is to cultivate the company’s vision so strongly that it can build a devoted community––a cult––on the back of its marketing. If done right, vision not only guarantees success too, but also guarantees a timeless one.

Replacing privacy-invasion with psychographic-analysis

Privacy invasion means getting your hands on the facts that you wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) normally know, and psychoanalysis is observing facts that are openly available but also looking underneath them and understanding the why’s and how’s of them.

Both of these approaches offer a fair prediction of how things would turn out, and both require a decent amount of hard work. But psychoanalysis is not only more ethical, it also makes more sense because it helps us understand a people’s incentives, mindsets, motivations, values, dreams, likes, hopes, issues, fears, etc. This is much more powerful than demographic-based audience segmentation.

Try applying this framework to your target audience by applying simple methods like observing their behaviors, surveying, or studying similar communities and historical patterns if any. This will help you draw some psychographics and create much deeper and valuable buyer personas and come up with much more effective marketing strategies.

This is highly capable of not only outshining intrusive marketing and advertising tactics, but also outshining the generally understood online marketing: a means of competing for maximum impressions and clicks.

What to do as digital marketers?

There are some things that we can actively do to ensure a smooth transition from reliance on third-party cookies to staying relevant within a cookieless web.

Plan your journey from three to zero

As third-party cookies bid us goodbye, it’s time to utilize more of first-party and zero-party data.

First-party data

First-party data is data that is passively observed as users interact with the platforms that only you control, like your website. If configured right, it doesn’t collect personally identifiable information from your web visitors.

This stays within the domain of your website, and does not follow the visitor around on Chrome, as and when they leave the website. It respects visitor’s boundaries, and collects only the type of data that can be used to improve your own website experience.

Some examples of such first-party data are “pageviews”, “scrolls”, “outbound clicks”, “bounce rates”, “visit duration”, “traffic sources”, etc. that can be collected via privacy-friendly website analytics tools.

Zero-party data

Zero-party data is information that customers proactively and explicitly share with a brand, such as email addresses, purchase intentions, communication preferences, content preferences, customization requests, product or service feedback, etc.

This can come from carefully implementing information capture tools like forms, quizzes, surveys, polls, and through direct customer interactions with chatbots or demo and sales calls.

Diversify advertising platforms

The death of third-party cookies doesn’t imply the death of online tracking –– it just makes it more restricted and ethical. Any advertising platform that operates within the purview of respecting user privacy is here to stay. Here are some of the platforms that you can utilize for advertising:

Social media platforms

The social media platforms collect data directly from their users, making it first-party to the platforms. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, TikTok, etc have vast amounts of first-party data, thanks to their logged-in user bases. This makes it effective for advertising, if you are looking to reach specific demographics or interest groups through your ads.

Search engines

Regular search engine marketing and advertising, like Google Ads or Bing Ads, continue to stay functional. The fundamental aspects of search engine advertising, like matching keyword types and bidding processes, remain core to the platforms, and are not directly affected by Chrome’s third-party phase out.

Programmatic advertising enabled platforms

As mentioned earlier, the job that used to be done by third-party cookies is getting replaced by research emerging identity solutions like the Unified ID 2.0 and Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiatives. These initiatives are doing a good job in staying compliant with regulations and are well-positioned for the near future.

You should evaluate these alternatives, but tread carefully for they continue to be privacy-evasive and non-customer-friendly in nature. Unless there are some fair-to-the-intent-of-privacy values for them, they are doomed to meet the same end as that of third-party cookies as and when governments and privacy advocates take notice of them.

Contextual advertising

The good old contextual advertising is making a comeback. It primarily focuses on the environment where the ad is placed, rather than the individual who is viewing the ad. With this strategy, you can target ads based on the content a user is viewing. So invest in understanding your audience’s interests and the content platforms they regularly visit.

You can find multiple platforms that help advertisers run ads based on keywords, website themes, and the type of content users are currently viewing. This strategy not only complies with privacy regulations but also ensures that ads are relevant and engaging to the audience.

Improve your content game

Claim expertise in the subject matter of the industry you are operating in, by employing a content team to make high quality content. Also consider experimenting with non-written content formats to reach your audiences in easily consumable ways.

In order to distribute your content, consider building your own, highly contextual and customized, distribution channel. For example, you could create your own community on Discord where you can bring together your customers and other stakeholders for highly relevant discussions.

Meanwhile, strengthen your search engine optimization and search generative experience efforts, to rely more on inbound marketing and building a solid brand.

Directly engage with your customers

Your customers are the one set of people that matters the most, whether they are the current ones or potential ones. Invest more time and resources in posting valuable content on social media, or creating email marketing or SMS campaigns that nurture your relationship with existing subscribers.

Embrace privacy-first analytics tools

Choose open-source and privacy-first analytics tools for understanding your website traffic and engagement patterns. These tools, designed with privacy at their core, ensure compliance with regulations such as GDPR and CCPA, and also makes you future-proof and ready for other regulations that are expected to come from other nations.

This ensures we can gather insights into user behavior and website performance without infringing on individual privacy rights.


Being data-oriented and customer-centric as a marketer is extremely important. But being able to do well with relatively limited amounts (fair amounts) of data is even more important for staying customer-centric in the first place.

As marketers, we must ask better questions about what would create a sustainable brand, and build and protect customer trust like anything. We must rely more on relationships with customers and less on technology that offers shortcuts to short-term success.

This article was written by Hricha Shandily, an experienced digital marketer and founding marketer at a Y Combinator startup.

Written by Hricha Shandily

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