Google is delaying by nearly two years a plan to remove web-tracking cookies from the world's most extensively used web browser. The plan was for Google's Chrome web browser to stop supporting third-party cookies, which track a user's web-browsing habits, by January 2022. But on Thursday, Alphabet Inc. said this is now likely to happen over three months beginning in mid-2023. It said more time was needed to allow regulators, publishers, and the ad industry to get to know the technologies being developing to allow targeted ads to continue after the demise of cookies, reports the Wall Street Journal. Testing began in April on one technology known as FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), which is meant to allow advertisers to track groups of users with similar interests, rather than individuals.
The company said the delay is in line with an agreement with the UK's competition watchdog. The Competition and Markets Authority, the US Justice Department, and the European Commission are all investigating Google's plan, which has been met with scrutiny on many fronts. As the Verge explains, "the less Google cuts off tracking, the more likely it is to come under fire for not protecting user privacy." But "the more Google cuts off third-party tracking, the more it harms other advertising companies and potentially increases its own dominance in the ad space." Critics say the removal of cookies would put Google at an advantage as it can continue to collect similar data through Search and YouTube, per Reuters. Google claims FLoC is at least 95% as effective as cookie-based targeting, per the Journal, but advertisers want to investigate that themselves. (Read more Google stories.)