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Cookiegeddon: The Final Crumble or Just Another Batch in the Oven?

Let’s not parse words here: the pixelated crumbs of third-party cookies have long been the lifeblood of our industry, and we find ourselves at a peculiar juncture—a point in time so bewildering, it could rival the plot twists of a techy telenovela. 

Also, I need to be honest: I am getting tired of writing about this $%&$$&%

Google has declared, like a evil demented King, an end to third-party cookies in Chrome, setting the stage for what could be the grand finale of a saga that’s been running longer than some of our favorite TV shows. 

But is the cookie truly, really, honestly going away?

Or is this just another cliffhanger in the industry’s longest-running drama?

For eons, or so it seems, denial was the name of the game. The ad industry clung to third-party cookies like a comfort blanket, believing, perhaps, that if we wished hard enough, they would never leave us. Fast forward to last year’s ALM, and IAB CEO David Cohen morphed into the embodiment of the industry’s collective angst, a balding superhero of adtech—throwing shade at regulators and platform giants alike for conspiring in what seemed like a plot to snatch away our beloved cookies.  Rawr!

Fast forward to this year, and it’s as if the industry collectively moved on to the bargaining stage of grief. Tech vendors are now scurrying about, making deals and partnerships like it’s the digital equivalent of musical chairs, all in hopes of securing a seat when the music stops in this post-cookie world. Cohen has dubbed this the “in-between” years, a time when the cookie gets its swan song while subscription- and ad-supported media duke it out in a battle royale for dominance. Less Rawr.

As IAB CEO David Cohen melodramatically proclaimed at a sun-soaked gathering of almost elderly leaders (ok, I’m up there too) in Marco Island, Florida, we are at a “critical inflection point in our digital evolution.” It’s the era he envisions we’ll look back on, reminiscing about the “good old in-between years” as if they were a cherished sitcom from the ’90s.

The script couldn’t get any juicier: digital media layoffs, data being yanked from programmatic’s grasp, and TV companies fumbling with streaming ventures that bleed red. And amidst this chaos, Cohen whispers sweet nothings (oh baby, play with my sandbox) about the Privacy Sandbox and the imminent demise of third-party cookies—promising a revolution in how we do everything in advertising.

Yet, the plot thickens. With early 2025 now looking like a safe bet for the cookie’s curtain call, ad execs are hedging their bets, skeptical of Google’s promise to end all promises. This skepticism isn’t unwarranted, especially after whispers and murmurs from marketers, publishers, and ad tech vendors have filled the air, painting a picture of Google’s Privacy Sandbox as a stage still under construction, not quite ready for the performance it’s meant to host. And, The TradeDesk just basically said it’s absolute junk.

The U.K.’s Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) has turned up the drama, casting long shadows with its ongoing investigation into the Sandbox’s readiness and competitive fairness. Concerns abound that the Sandbox might not be the all-encompassing solution it was touted to be, possibly leading to an even greater entrenchment of the walled gardens cultivated by the likes of Google, Meta, and Amazon.

James Rosewell, of the Movement for an Open Web, couldn’t put it more bluntly on Digiday a few days back: the Sandbox is riddled with flaws, and Google’s self-preferencing antics are under the microscope. (it sucks) The CMA’s report reads like a thriller, revealing at least 39 plot twists (read: regulatory concerns) that Google needs to address before we can even think about saying goodbye to third-party cookies.

As we delve deeper into the heart of this dingy digital drama, the plot thickens and twists into a narrative that could rival any binge-worthy series. Companies across the ad tech landscape are crafting contingency plans, akin to doomsday preppers, as they brace for Google’s next monumental (heh, seismic) shift. This “ok it really sucks” scenario has everyone on edge, playing a high-stakes game of chicken with the future of digital advertising. .

Meanwhile, in a room that one imagines is filled with whiteboards, lots of bottled water and sweaty existential dread, the IAB Tech Lab’s finest minds under Anthony Katsur, are dissecting Google’s Privacy Sandbox with the precision of surgeons in an operating theatre. They’re on a quest, not for the holy grail, but for something equally elusive: a gapless future where privacy and precision in advertising can coexist harmoniously. The noble pursuit of a more private web is a highly publicized beacon of hope in this saga, guiding us through the murky waters of change.

The crux of the matter lies in not just identifying the gaps, but in the Herculean task of bridging them. The Privacy Sandbox, in its current form, is a patchwork quilt—comforting in theory but riddled with holes that let the cold winds of doubt seep through. (again, it sucks) The industry’s craftsmen and craftswomen (crafters?) are now faced with the daunting challenge of weaving together a new tapestry, one that can shelter us from the prying eyes of regulators and hackers alike, without unraveling at the seams. As they stitch together solutions, there’s an underlying fear: what if, after all this, we’re left out in the cold? Brrrr.

This journey towards a cookieless future is akin to navigating a labyrinth with no map, where every turn could lead to a dead end or a hidden passage to salvation.Yet, as we chart our course, we can’t help but cling to the remnants of the old world, like sailors reluctant to let go of the shore. The question that looms large is whether we’ll find our way to the promised land of privacy and precision or if we’ll be forever lost at sea, yearning for the days when cookies ruled the waves. The adventure continues, and only time will reveal the final destination of this epic voyage.

Still, the question looms large: Is the cookie really going away, or are we all just actors in a play that’s far from over?

(Hint: It’s really going away, sorry)

 Only time will tell, but one thing’s for certain—this saga is bound to keep us on the edge of our seats, popcorn in hand, eagerly awaiting the next episode in the great cookie crap crumble.

Pesach Lattin
Pesach Lattin
Pesach "Pace" Lattin is one of the top experts in interactive advertising, affiliate marketing. Pesach Lattin is known for his dedication to ethics in marketing, and focus on compliance and fraud in the industry, and has written numerous articles for publications from MediaPost, ClickZ, ADOTAS and his own blogs.

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