The New York Times Shows Why Google’s Elimination of Third-Party Cookies Dooms Local News

Google is threatening extinction for the local news industry. The New York Times’ decision to stop using third-party data in its advertising by 2021, and instead will rely on first-party data from its digital subscribers and registered users. This move was prompted by Google’s announcement earlier this year to phase out third-party cookies in two years, ostensibly to improve consumer privacy.  

This will be devastating for news outlets. Google’s own study shows that eliminating third-party cookies would reduce ad revenue for news publishers by an average of 62%, The move by the New York Times demonstrates why. Allison Murphy, Senior Vice President of Ad Innovation at the Times notes, “this can only work because we have 6 million subscribers and millions more registered users that we can identify and because we have a breadth of content…this isn’t a path available for every publishers, especially not local who don’t have the scale of resources for building from scratch.”

It also underscores why Google’s privacy rationale makes no sense. Rather than using anonymized third-party data for advertising purposes, the Times will be relying on first-party data from its logged in users, which is tied directly to personally identifiable information like user names and email addresses. That seems worse for privacy not better. This move is really about “leaving Google with a virtual monopoly in digital advertising services for the open web.”. 

Poynter has reported that the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of more than 25 local newsrooms. On top of these losses, Google’s elimination of third-party cookies will be the death knell for local news outlets.

The following is a statement from Nick Charles, spokesperson for the Save Journalism Project: 

“The New York Times move shows exactly how Google is killing local news. In its plan to phase out third party cookies, it leaves local news outlets unable to monetize their content through advertising. Huge national papers with millions of logged in users can switch to first-party data. But that option is simply not available to all but a handful of outlets. And that’s worse for privacy, not better, which is the ostensible reason Google gives for eliminating third-party data. When our communities need them the most, local outlets are there rain or shine, in good health or bad, to cover this public health crisis, hold government accountable, and provide hard-hitting, accurate reporting. Newsrooms are vital to our democracy and the social fabric of our communities. But they are now facing extinction because Google wants to strengthen its monopoly in digital advertising.”