Current web-overlords Google have been angling to do away with 3rd party website cookies for a while, and that plan is now moving into its final stages.
In a recently updated timeline, Google is currently aiming for this to be rolled out to all users by around this time next year. 1% of users will be running the new setup from this January so data can start being gathered by Google and website developers.
It's worth noting that this is a change that, for now, is only coming to Google's Chrome browser. However, as we have noted in the past, Chrome is now so ubiquitous that this is one of those occasions that if Google decide to make a unilateral change like this, everyone else has to just accept it.
Before we continue, it's probably worth giving a very brief overview of what a cookie is, as it's easy to get the impression they're just a nuisance. A cookie is basically just a text file saved when you visit a website that stores some information. They are sometimes critical for more complex websites to function correctly. They are often used to determine things like whether or not a user is logged into the site as they navigate from one page to the next. Data like this would be stored in a first party cookie - a cookie that is generated and saved directly by the site you're visiting.
It isn't these cookies that Google is planning to block, but 3rd party cookies. As the name suggests, these are cookies that are set by sites other than the one you're visiting. This is often used for things like analytics and generally tracking people around the internet so a profile can be built. Unlike 1st party cookies, 3rd party cookies can be accessed by other websites regardless of where they were originally created.
As you might imagine, this will be ringing alarm bells for marketing teams around the world who are currently used to a wealth of knowledge about the people visiting their websites so they can continue to refine them to better suit the people that visit. As luck would have it. Google have their own solution to replace 3rd party cookies.
Google's new "Privacy Sandbox" system includes something called "Topics". This allows a website to ask the browser what sort of things the person visiting is interested in, and then use that to decide to show tailored content, or what ads to show if applicable. This list of interests is generated by Chrome for each user as it watches your browsing habits on an ongoing basis.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is a fan of this change. The biggest complaint seems to be that Google is creating both the problem and the solution, and everyone has no choice but to comply. While individual users may care enough about this that they decide to switch to another browser, it's unlikely the average person will either know or care about it. Therefore, websites will have no choice but to prepare for this change, and to use Google's Topics system as an alternative.
With a year left until the current deadline, there's still time for changes here. However, it seems likely that this change will be coming in largely this form in the not too distant future. If your website uses 3rd party cookies, it looks like you need to start planning for a time where it won't in the not too distant future.