The Chrome Privacy Sandbox, Google’s laboratory bowl for testing and creating privacy-preserving ad targeting and measurement, has evolved into a tug of war rope.

On one side are Google Advertising and sandbox supporters, and on the other are industry opponents, like The Trade Desk, who regard Google as self-serving and sandbox solutions as insufficient.

Victor Wong, Google’s senior director of product management, defended the Privacy Sandbox APIs in a blog post on Wednesday, outlining the weaknesses in typical criticisms of its sandbox ideas.

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Below are Google’s seven key complaints, along with extra analysis and context.

Objection 1: The Privacy Sandbox does not offer one-to-one substitutes for third-party cookie-supported use cases.

In other words, don’t expect the same capabilities or functionality as third-party cookies; otherwise, you’ll be disappointed.

However, there is crucial background (and drama) in the subtext.

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For more than a year, the Chrome Privacy Sandbox team has taken potshots at Google’s detractors, as well as direct shots at The Trade Desk since December.

Ad tech businesses, primarily DSPs that have not committed time or effort in – or have openly disavowed – the Privacy Sandbox, instead encourage advertisers to use programmatic identification projects like as UID2, as well as vendor alternatives such as Yahoo’s ConnectID and those provided by LiveRamp or ID5.

However, in the words of Wong, “certain capabilities that relied on third-party cookies, like audiences based on profiles of user activity across websites, will not be possible to directly replicate.”

Advertising ID services that profile users based on cross-site tracking may outlast third-party cookies, but they are clearly not part of the Chrome team’s vision for a privacy-centric web in the future.

“We’re committed to pushing privacy-preserving technologies forward for years to come,” Wong said.

This is a subtle way of indicating that those other identification graphs may lose cross-site monitoring technology in the coming years.
Objection 2: The Privacy Sandbox is too difficult compared to using identifiers.

This is another example of Google not correcting advertisements. Rather, it’s suggesting that, while this medicine tastes unpleasant, you must take it.

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Third-party ad tech solutions that generate web-tracking IDs without cookies are “easier to retrofit into existing products,” according to Wong.

However, those methods aren’t a “meaningful improvement” over third-party cookies. Not as an indicator of ad performance, but because they continue the practice of reidentifying individuals across sites, which Chrome plans to prohibit.

Wong writes that the Privacy Sandbox method “requires technology innovation and openness to new paradigms.”

Objection 3: The future Privacy Sandbox capabilities are questionable.

As in, Chrome is currently working on it.

One of the most prevalent complaints about Privacy Sandbox APIs is that they do not solve an issue. They are usually only partial improvements because Google has to make compromises to advertisers, publishers, and ad tech.

However, from Chrome’s perspective, developing these capabilities is analogous to laying blocks to assist people climb a wall. And the first few blocks will not be too overwhelming.

Not everything in the sandbox will be completed by the end of 2024. Wong mentions, for example, that Chrome is striving to improve APIs to accommodate video and native ads. These products will not be available until 2026, but Google intends to speak with the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over the changes.

“Some have asserted that we must have complete technical designs ready today for these future Privacy Sandbox changes, before the industry can adopt the current technologies,” he adds. “We disagree.”

Objection 4: Google’s products should have an advantage in the Privacy Sandbox.

Google is particularly sensitive to antitrust allegations.

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And Wong wants to make sure that “all businesses and developers who use Privacy Sandbox technologies – including Google – have the same access to the same Privacy Sandbox capabilities.”

While that is legally correct and may be enough for the Privacy Sandbox APIs to pass test with the CMA, ad tech companies are most concerned that Google Ads is a significant relative benefactor of the Privacy Sandbox endeavor.

Without third-party data, the programmatic sector must rely on first-party data and extensive data modeling. But who owns the first-party data? Google.

And Google Ads will undoubtedly rely largely on Google’s first-party data and owned-and-operated properties.

Third-party ad tech will undoubtedly lose.
Objection 5: Building atop the Privacy Sandbox is too expensive.

Chrome is once again asking users to take their medicine.

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Rebuilding user trust and implementing a new web advertising system will necessitate “a significant investment of resources, time, and energy,” Wong argues.

However, other browsers, such as Safari and Firefox, have already eliminated third-party cookies and other advertising identifiers. Meanwhile, privacy regulations are being expanded over the world. So, developing for a post-cookie future is an essential step, and it becomes more difficult the longer you wait.

Furthermore, as the use of Privacy Sandbox services increases, they will become more cost-effective in terms of cloud data expenses.

“Taken as a whole,” Wong adds, “the return on investment in building for better online privacy is significant and growing.”
Objection 6: The Privacy Sandbox APIs are not based on actual ecosystem feedback.

The Chrome team takes this opportunity to express gratitude to the open industry players who contributed to the development of the sandbox API.
For example, Criteo, RTB House, OpenX, and NextRoll all contributed to the creation of the Protected Audiences API, which was previously known as FLEDGE (and before that, TURTLEDOVE). They have also been actively testing the sandbox technology.

According to the post, the Privacy Sandbox is the result of the joint efforts of hundreds of industry professionals who have spent thousands of hours in numerous forums discussing, debating, and providing input on API designs.

Wong also notes that the Topics and Attribution Reporting APIs were revised last year in response to industry feedback.

However, it should be noted that Google has been known to solicit feedback from merchants who support its mission while occasionally dismissing criticism from those who do not. The W3C, the nonprofit organization that publishes and reviews the Privacy Sandbox specifications, rejected the Topics API last year. Google is going forward with it anyway.

Objection 7: Changing the date for third-party cookie deprecation will help the ecosystem prepare.

Are we pretending that the deadline hasn’t been pushed twice already?

“We understand some people want more time,” he adds, “but we have heard repeatedly from the industry that moving the timeline is likely to result in less ecosystem preparedness, not more.”

Google has not simply heard about this as a hypothetical. It has seen firsthand on multiple instances that delaying the deadline leads to procrastination and thus “less ecosystem preparedness.”

Wong does include the typical warning that third-party cookie deprecation is contingent on the CMA approving the Privacy Sandbox ideas.

However, if no regulatory action is taken, Chrome intends to eliminate third-party cookies by 2024. Seriously, Google means it this time.


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