There are updates coming to Google Cookie Settings that are likely to bring up questions about what data you can track and utilize from digital advertising campaigns. It may also bring up questions that you don’t want to ask out loud, like admitting that you’re not exactly sure what a third-party cookie actually is or does!

We thought we’d outline the updates, and the definitions, starting with some basic explanations for first-party and third-party cookies.

First-Party Cookies are stored by a domain/website that you are directly visiting. They collect data on what pages you visit, what you put into an ecommerce cart, your checkout process, etc. Essentially, a first-party cookie tracks useful data to provide a good user experience.

For example, if you are on an ecommerce site shopping and place an item in your cart and continue shopping, once you go to another page on the ecommerce site, without a first-party cookie, the items in your cart will not be retained from page to page.

The three types of first-party cookies are:

  1. Session Cookie – tracks website session data and disappears when you leave a domain
  2. Tracking Cookie – long term and tracks activity on a website
  3. Authentication Cookie – tracks user and login information

Third-Party Cookies are created by domains/websites other than the one you are directly visiting and are used exclusively for online advertising purposes.

A first-party cookie is created when you visit a website. If that website supports advertisements that direct to an outside website or domain, it will also create a third-party cookie. The third-party cookie provides user data, such as behavior on the site, the content viewed, items the user clicked on, device being used and their location. All of this data can be used by advertisers to display ads to that person via the info collected by the third-party cookie.

OK, phew! Got it?

So, why are browsers deprecating the use of third-party cookies?

The answer is simple. There has been a significant increase in the need for and awareness of personal privacy protection. This began with the European Union’s GDPR Laws or General Data Protection Regulation and continues with compliance seals and data protection from companies like ePrivacy.

California is following suit by implementing the California Consumer Privacy Act which gives consumers more control over the personal information that businesses can collect about them and their activities.

Browsers like Firefox and Safari have already blocked third-party cookies by default. Google Chrome will stop the use of third-party cookies by or before 2022.

What does this mean for advertising?

Ah, the big question—does this mean the end of behavioral targeting? Will we still be able to use powerful tactics like visitor remarketing and retargeting? The short answer is that marketers will still be able to use tracking as part of digital advertising campaigns. Third-party cookies are not the only form of targeting or technology that can track user behavior across domains and websites.

Let’s focus on Chrome for a moment, since the browser has a 64% global market share. (The closest runner up is Safari, with a 19% market share.)

Google is creating a privacy sandbox for Chrome that they are calling FLoC, or Federated Learning of Cohorts, which hides individuals “in the crowd” and uses on-device processing to keep an individual’s browsing history and actions private on the browser. This means that when you visit a site, Chrome will share cohort data, interests and behavior with that site. Google recently launched a trial of this targeting technology on millions of site visit instances. This trial is not yet replacing third-party cookies but is supplementing them with tracking FLoC IDs. The trial is said to last through June. No other browsers have announced plans to follow suit with FLoC technology. I guess they are sitting tight and waiting to see what will happen…as are curious digital advertisers.

What’s the takeaway for marketers?

As marketers, we can rest assured that while big changes are underway, there will be new alternatives emerging. Remember, not all cookies are being banned. Advertisers/site owners still retain first-party data. We’ve also had some time to prepare, since this is not coming as a surprise to digital marketers and Google’s Privacy Sandbox has already seen some successful results from FLoC.

At the end of the day, pivoting and adjusting our tactics with clever alternatives and innovation is what we do. We need to continue to stay up to date on news related to third-party cookies and alternative solutions. Safari and Firefox have been blocking third-party cookies for some time and here we are, still moving forward.

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