What’s next for advertisers if Google takes another tack on cookie alternatives?

For the third time, the New Year means new plans for Google as it continues to change its plan to phase out third-party cookies in Chrome. The tech giant has unveiled a new Privacy Sandbox proposal called Topics, which will replace Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), exactly one year after the proposal gained weight.

While Google has promised that FLoC will provide at least 95% of the conversions per dollar that advertisers get from cookie-based advertising, many players in the advertising world have questioned these claims and questioned whether FLoC would take its full place. Despite these concerns, replacing FLoC with Topics presents another complication, as advertisers continue to discover what the cookie-free future will look like.

Rather than putting anonymous users into interest-based groups, a user’s browser determines various topics that match the user’s top interests for the week, based on their browsing history. Topics are only kept for three weeks, then deleted and archived only locally. When you visit a website, Topics selects a topic from each of the last three weeks to share with the website and its advertising partners. While it does more to protect user privacy, topics may not do enough to meet an advertiser’s needs.

It’s unclear whether mounting pressure will force Google to join the program and whether continued uncertainty could lead to further delays in removing third-party cookies. Cookies only affect browser ads, not paid search, social media, audio, and video streaming, or connected TV, giving marketers the ability to recalibrate and re-prioritize these other channels. Other players won’t be so happy.

Finally, Google still generates a large number of ad sales from its other properties, including Search and YouTube, some of which use their Gmail-generated data. So whatever form the cookie-free future takes, Google is likely to emerge even stronger.