More Changes Loom for Online Marketers


Online marketers face a slew of changes affecting the way they reach consumers online.

Privacy-related changes at Apple Inc.,

begun last year, are slated to continue this year. And a key European finding on the rules for digital ad auctions is expected in the coming months.

Certain shifts won’t officially set in until 2023, such as the anticipated end of third-party cookies in the Chrome browser, but they involve so much complexity that time is still short, some observers say.

“2022 should really be the marketers’ year of preparing for these changes,” said Stephanie Liu, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Here are four areas experts say markets should watch closely in the months ahead.

Preparing for cookies to crumble

Google last summer delayed its plans to block the user-tracking technology called third-party cookies in its Chrome browser to late 2023 from early 2022.

The Alphabet Inc.

unit said then that the delay would give it more time to get publishers, advertisers and regulators comfortable with the new technologies it is developing to enable targeted ads after those cookies are gone.

But the calendar is hardly empty until then. Just this week, Google said it was overhauling its post-cookie approach with a new system called Topics that marketers will now have to study.

“Until we get confirmation from Google on the viability of the testing that they’re doing, and really a conclusion of that, this could still shift and move a little bit,” said Brian DeCicco, US chief data strategy and analytics officer at WPP PLC media agency Mindshare, referring to Google’s tests of proposals that it is trying out to replace third-party cookies.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, meanwhile, has been investigating whether Google’s move against third-party cookies could cause advertisers to shift spending to Google’s set of online-ad tools at the expense of its competitors.

Google has offered commitments designed to address such concerns, according to the regulator, which said in its online case timetable it would be considering them through February.

Decision from Belgium’s data-protection authority

In 2020, investigators at Belgium’s data-protection authority wrote that tactics auctions Google and other large online-ad players use in digital ads violate Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation privacy law. Their report focused on the European arm of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an online-ad trade group that the investigators said is responsible for how its member companies buy, sell and use individuals’ data in digital ad transactions.

In November, IAB Europe said that it had been informed by the Belgian data authority that it was close to a draft ruling on the matter.

Townsend Feehan, chief executive officer of IAB Europe, said this week that the organization is waiting for further updates.

Marketers that relied on the IAB Europe framework could potentially find themselves out of compliance.

“If you’ve been relying on a self regulatory framework that then is found to not comply with the GDPR, you then are finding yourself probably not in compliance with the GDPR, even though maybe in earnest, you thought you were,” said Christina Gagnier, shareholder and co-leader of the adtech practice group at law firm Carlton Fields.

California Privacy Rights Act on the horizon

Thousands of miles from Belgium, the California Privacy Rights Act will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. Its provisions, which amend and expand upon the 2018 California Consumer Privacy Act, will give consumers in the state new rights, such as limiting the use and disclosure of “sensitive personal information.”

But though the law technically doesn’t go into effect for a year, it has a “lookback” provision applying to all information collected beginning this month: Companies need to be prepared to provide consumers with information they have collected starting in January of this year.

“If a company is not yet in compliance, they do have to develop systems now,” said Sarah Bruno, a partner at law firm Reed Smith LLP.

And marketers should be prepared for the other changes brought by the bill, observers said.

“It feels like there’s a lot of time to comply with CPRA, especially if you’re already compliant with CCPA,” said Ms. Liu, the Forrester analyst. “But realistically, there [are] so many nuances of the language and how businesses want to interpret that, that they need to start doing that work now.”

Apple’s privacy rules

Many privacy-related changes from Apple last year have already prompted marketers to shift strategies, but companies should be ready for more updates.

Beginning later this year, for example, apps submitted to Apple that let users create accounts within the app must also let users delete their accounts within the app.

And marketers should expect more changes still, Ms. Liu said.

“We just don’t know what Apple’s going to announce, but they’re very clear that they are continuing to invest in privacy and privacy [features]she said.

Apple began requiring apps to request user tracking permissions. Now, tech giants and small businesses alike say they’re losing money due to the new privacy policy. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains why those costs could be passed to consumers. Illustration: Rafael Garcia

Write to Megan Graham at [email protected]

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