Privacy Law

Apple and Google Roll Out Initiatives to Curb User and Tracking and Protect Privacy

By Andrew Scott

On March 3, 2021, Google announced it is on pace to phase out its use of third-party cookies (with no alternative) for cross-site tracking.  Google started down this path in 2020, announcing that Chrome—Google’s web browser–would remove support for third-party cookies by 2022, making them obsolete.    Google’s plan is to substitute the one-to-one cookie-centric targeting with a privacy-first and interest-based technology that is being referred to as cohort targeting—Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoCs).

The cookie ban does not apply to Google’s products, for example, Search and YouTube.  Google will still collect data from a user’s interactions with its products (first-party data) and will still target ads to users based upon that interaction.  The ban also does not apply to the company’s Software Development Kits (SDK) in mobile apps that collect data and target ads. 

Apple’s upcoming iOS 14 update will, however, stop cross-app tracking, reshaping the mobile app ecosystem.  The update includes the much-discussed anti-tracking features, which has received significant support from the privacy community.  Some of the new features include not only a user-required opt-in to app tracking but also a prominent notification on launch of new apps that explains what will be tracked.

While both initiatives are different, they seem to share common objectives:  promote web transparency, protect privacy, and enhance platform control.  Rather than rely on cookies, ad companies will have to find another way to target users (e.g., digital fingerprinting). 

So, who will enforce the initiatives?  Google and Apple will be taking a self-regulatory approach to enforcement.  Apple has indicated it will enforce its new requirements for all third-party data sources, including data sharing agreements.  With respect to its apps in the Apple App Store, Google stated it would comply with Apple’s new framework.

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