Google Says Cookie-Free Advertising Works

John Lister's picture

Google believes it's found a way to replace privacy-breaching cookies while still letting advertisers find success. It's testing a way to effectively combine data from thousands of users to target ads.

Cookies fall into two main types: first and third party. First-party cookies are generally uncontroversial as they simply identify a user on a website, including any previous activity such as website preferences. For example, a premium website could let somebody log in to an account and then use cookies so they don't have to log in again for a set period such as a week.

Third-party cookies are more likely to cause concern as they track a specific user's activity on multiple websites. For advertisers (and ad sellers) that's great news as it means they can build up an extremely specific profile of an individual's tastes and interests and show highly targeted advertising.

For the individual, it's a mixed picture. More relevant ads can be a good or bad thing depending on perspective, but the use of third-party cookies raises serious privacy concerns.

Third-Party Cookies Blocked

Firefox and Safari already block all third-party cookies by default and Google will do so by the end of next year. The browser manufacturers appear to be getting ahead of potential legal rulings that would force them to do this. (Source:

Given Google makes its money from advertising, however, it doesn't want ad targeting to get less efficient and put businesses off spending. That's why its testing a technology it calls Federated Learning of Cohorts.

In simple terms, the technology would still track a user's activity online, but it would store the data entirely on the user's computer in a way that means it can't be read in isolation.

Ads Still Effective

Google and advertisers would only be able to see the data in an aggregated form that combines information about large groups of people who have similar interests. The idea is that over time the technology will learn more about patterns of similarities between users. Advertisers would still target people with particular interests, but wouldn't need to access specific data about individuals.

According to Google, its initial tests show that a business spending the same amount on advertising through this technology would generate at least 95 percent as much revenue from people clicking through and buying products as they would from ads based on third-party cookies. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Should browsers block third-party cookies (either voluntarily or following a law?) Do you find highly targeted advertising useful, creepy or both? Is even a small drop in revenue likely to deter advertisers from placing ads targeted using the new technology?

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Average: 5 (7 votes)


beach.boui's picture

I don't want any site operator to assume I care to view his/her ad or product simply because one of their cookies landed in my browser, when they have no Earthly idea of why or how it got there. Targeted ads just piss me off. Perhpas Google's new approach will be an improvement. Can't wait to seen how I get categorized.

buzzallnight's picture

No one should be able to put anything on your computer

without your completely informed consent

and you should be able to copy and save
anything that shows on your computer screen.

Scribbler's picture

The fastest way to dissuade me from purchasing from you is to force an unsolicited ad into my internet activity. I have far better things to do than spend my time deleting irrelevant ads.