The Changing World of Online Tracking & Visibility

Google’s latest delay to the deprecation of third-party cookies may not be a surprise, but it poses a potential question for many business owners;

“Do I really need to care about all of this online tracking and visibility stuff?!”


TL;DR: Google has delayed the demise of third-party cookies again, but please don’t become complacent! Firefox and Safari (representing around 20% of the browser share) binned cookies years ago, and the slow arrival (and enforcement) of Consent Mode shows us that these kinds of privacy-centric changes have a major impact when they arrive. It’s likely that access to wider content will also be increasingly ring-fenced against users who fight against consent and online privacy. Rather than putting off embracing all of these new regulations, we instead urge you to use the time to prepare.


With so many changes being announced early and then kicked down the road, we’d certainly forgive you for thinking that you might be able to pay lip service to any developments as and when they arise because… well… they might not even end up happening.

If that sounds a bit like you, then we forgive you, but we’d be remiss to let you get away with that approach!

The delay to the demise of third-party cookies is a temporary reprieve; it’s still coming, and a lot more is on the horizon too. The inevitable end point will be transformative.

Why are we so sure of this? Well, because there have already been so many roll-outs and changes that have seen the light of day, and we’ve seen the impact that they can have. Google’s “Consent Mode” is a great example of this, which aims to provide users with more control over their data and privacy preferences.

While the third-party cookie change has been postponed, it’s a looming reality that marketers and businesses must prepare for. Rather than allowing you to pretend it’s not happening, the extended timeline instead presents another opportunity to get your ducks in a row.

We’ve all been given a bit longer to explore and implement alternative tracking and measurement strategies, ensuring a seamless transition when the change arrives.

Proactively adapting to major changes like this is crucial to maintaining visibility and effectively reaching target audiences in the ever-evolving digital landscape. Join us as we take a longer look at just how the winds of change are blowing through the world of online tracking…

Third-Party Cookie Demise Delayed

As we said, it’s not exactly surprising that Google has delayed their phasing-out of third party cookies. After all, the original date for this was way back in January 2020, and they’re now on their third setback!

Ostensibly, Google’s decision was based upon a desire to make sure that the ad industry has a bit more prep time. However, it’s fair to say that reactions from the industry have been quite mixed!

To some, it’s a necessary extension to allow for proper preparation.

Others argue that it breeds continued reliance on outdated tracking methods. After all, we’re literally years past the promise to phase out third-party cookies “within 2 years” of 2020! Sure, around 1% of Chrome users have already been moved to the Privacy Sandbox (allowing developers to gather real-world data about the impact of the post-cookie world), but even though that sample size includes a deceptively large number of people it’s still tiny.

Some people will also remember Google’s less-than-celebrated rollout of GA4, and suspect that the tech giant wants to ensure a better launch this time. After all, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) logged 39 “concerns” about the incoming launch back in January 2024, and the UK’s data watchdog also weighed in along similar lines in April 2024, so the build-up certainly hasn’t been smooth.

Regardless of your perspective, it’s undeniable that the eventual elimination of third-party cookies will have far-reaching implications for digital marketing practices. Other browsers like Safari and Firefox dropped third-party cookies as long ago as 2019, so there’s a sense that Google is late to the party. For quite a lot of non-Google users, the cookieless future is actually the cookieless present!

However, neither of those browsers has the reach of Chrome. Combined, Firefox and Safari have a browser share of around 20%, compared to Chrome’s 65% (or more) share. This latest shift will therefore be the biggest by far. We therefore urge you to use this extra time wisely, experimenting with privacy-centric approaches and developing a comprehensive plan for a post-cookie era.

A cookie jar GIF

The departure of third-party cookies is also assured because we’ve already seen this type of slow, almost faltering roll out with Consent Mode, which was first released back in 2020.

Fast forward a few years and compliance with Consent Mode is now a legal requirement, with certain features of Google Ads now locked behind it.

Google’s introduction of “Consent Mode” is a direct response to the increasing emphasis on user privacy and data protection regulations. We’ve already touched upon many of these things in our dedicated exploration of the post-cookie era, as it’s been a particularly big talking point in Europe.

As we said earlier, Consent Mode aims to give users greater control over their data and ensure compliance with GDPR and the like. The basic version of Consent Mode means that no Google tags will load unless a user authorises them to by interacting with the consent banner. If no such interaction takes place, then absolutely no data is sent to Google… the user’s visit goes unlogged! When you take into account that around 70% of consumers took steps to block cookies in 2023, the danger of a substantial blind spot developing is very real.

So, does this mean that your data volume will crumble and be riddled with gaps? Well, not entirely. Machine-learned modelling is a pioneering intelligence that aims to fill the data void. It will take the data that has been captured from consenting users, and then blend it with key account metrics and identified patterns. The outcome will theoretically be a logical calculation of how the non-consenting users performed. It sounds like good progress, but in reality we’re all still waiting to truly understand how accurate and valuable these forecasts are.

Not even Advanced Consent Mode can completely safeguard against the potential loss of data. It’s true that you can specify your own default settings within this mode, but there’s still a significant chance of your ads and analytics data not being as representative as they were.

As you might expect, Consent Mode has huge implications for tracking and measurement, especially in the realm of PPC advertising. In fact, we’ve encountered this ourselves with a couple of our clients. In these cases, the clients in question introduced cookie banners that had consent mode active, and both were then faced with a GA4 traffic “drop” of around 90%. It was up to us to get their analytics reporting back on its feet in a way that worked for them.

A big concern that we have is that, even though Consent Mode is now a legal requirement, many people out there still aren’t compliant! Right now, the features of Google Ads that are locked behind it aren’t too major, but over time we expect that to change. Some Ads users are likely going to get a big shock further down the line! There’s just no getting away from the fact that us marketers must reassess our approach to data collection and attribution. We must ensure that user consent is obtained and respected at every turn. Rock-solid confidence in the channel mix is essential for ensuring a smooth transition to a privacy-centric ecosystem.

A duck with a consent banner

Paying with Consent

And so we come to the 🔓; namely, the wider divisions that open up between users who have given consent, and those who resist new privacy policies.

As users become increasingly aware of their privacy rights and the value of their personal data, we are witnessing a shift in how content is accessed and consumed online. Many websites and platforms are adopting a more stringent approach. They are limiting access or imposing restrictions on users who refuse to provide consent for data collection and tracking.

Because of that, we’d like to make a prediction:

Changes in online tracking and visibility are heralding that the era of free, unrestricted access to content is coming to an end.

Just like we’ve seen with the dynamic between Consent Mode and Google Ads users, more general web users are now being faced with a choice. That choice is to consent to data collection practices, or settle for a limited, text-only version of the content they want to consume. Potentially, they may be left with no content at all!

Situations like this really highlight the new tension between user privacy and the monetisation of online content. The time is right for all of us to re-evaluate expectations and priorities.

So, just when is the death of third-party cookies on Chrome finally going to happen?

Nobody knows for sure, but the smart money suggests that it won’t now be before 2025, and that gives you an invaluable window to take action.

The evolving landscape of online tracking and visibility demands a proactive and adaptable approach. While Google’s delay in the deprecation of third-party cookies provides temporary relief, the change is inevitable. Businesses must seize this opportunity to explore alternative tracking solutions, embrace privacy-centric practices, and foster a transparent relationship with their customers. This moment of grace won’t last forever, and trying to navigate the changes when the sands of time have run out will be extremely problematic.

In this privacy-centric digital environment, partnering with a forward-thinking agency becomes increasingly valuable. That’s where we’d like to offer you our services.

As a full-service digital marketing agency that’s consistently stayed ahead of industry trends, we understand the complexities of privacy regulations old and new. We can help you to implement future-proof strategies that give you a long-lasting competitive edge.

Contact us to find out how we can help you with preparing for the future.

Further Reading:

Written by
Daryl Burrows
Daryl Burrows

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