Google’s turning off third-party cookies for 1 percent of Chrome users early next year

Google has been talking about a plan for Chrome to block the third-party cookies that can track user activity across many different websites since 2020. Its stated intention at the time was to complete the shift within two years. Three years later, it hasn’t happened, as its proposals for replacement technology have been criticized by competitors and privacy advocates and scrutinized by regulators who want to know if they will give Google an unfair advertising advantage.

Now, Google is announcing that when Chrome 115 is released in July, it will include support for the Privacy Sandbox set of replacement standards so that companies can test those out on a wider scale. They won’t be turned on for everyone, but users can activate them without joining a trial or turning on browser flags before they’re enabled for more people by default.

This screenshot is an “in progress” look at what the settings screen may look like once the new technology rolls out in Chrome.

Chrome “Design in progress” screenshot of privacy settings.Image: Google

A post on its Chrome Developers blog has more details about which technology is shipping. The list includes the Topics API that presents advertisers with some data about what users may be interested in based on your activity and the FLEDGE tool to “serve remarketing and custom audiences,” which has been renamed Protected Audience, to name a couple of them.

Google also listed other milestones that have already rolled out, like reducing passively shared browser data to prevent fingerprinting and Federated Credential Management that enables the use of “Sign in with…”-style services without opening up users for tracking across different sites.

There’s also an update coming later this year that should let developers simulate “Chrome third party cookie deprecation” for up to 10 percent of Chrome browsers, so they can test out what it will be like once it’s rolled out.

We spoke to Google director of product Victor Wong about the plan, which he said has been developed with input from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). While the proposed end of third-party cookie support (something other browsers like Safari and Firefox have now blocked by default for years) has been delayed again and again, Google now says that it will turn it off for 1 percent of Chrome users in Q1 of 2024.

Last July, Google announced a target of late 2024 to turn off third-party cookies, and this news isn’t exactly delaying that, but the company says it will “continue to work closely with the CMA” as it expands beyond 1 percent of Chrome users in the second half of next year.

Correction May 18th, 11:15AM ET: An earlier version of this post said a future Chrome update would allow developers to simulate third-party cookie deprecation for any percentage of users. In fact, the Chrome team says it anticipates this will allow them to receive experiment labels for up to 10 percent of Chrome browsers. We regret the error.