Cookies–so aptly named. Small and delicious. Who doesn’t want one? Online users freely offer up their cookies to marketers, who gobble them up handily. But what’s inside an online cookie? When users began to understand that it was their own personal information being gathered by websites they hadn’t even visited, consumers and privacy advocates changed their view on cookies. The approach that once worked– requiring websites to simply gain blanket permission by asking users to “Accept Cookies”– became a worldwide conversation on how to limit marketers’ access to private information (while still maintaining a users’ online experience). Not an either/or solution but a win/win.
What are cookies?
Let’s begin with first-party cookies. Click the message box “Accept Cookies” on any website and that site will save a cookie file to your device with information about your visit. The site stashes this information away for future use so that it will recognize you the next time you visit. The information that cookies collect about you varies but can include any of the following:
- How long you spend on a website
- Which links you click while there
- Any options, preferences, or settings you select
- Your login information and whether you log into your account
- Items you place in your shopping cart
And anyone who has lost a session online only to find that the work they’ve done in their shopping cart or other utility is GONE, will agree that we want some of our work stored by first-party websites.
What can’t be tracked by first-party cookies is how users interact with other websites outside the one they’re visiting. That’s where third-party cookies come into play.
What about third-party cookies?
Created by sites that the user has not directly visited, third-party cookies track a user’s information for online advertising directives, i.e. third-party cookies are gathered by advertisers that subscribe to the sites a user visits in order to build a profile on that user and target them with ads in accordance with their preferences, web surfing history, purchases, etc.
Marketers have long been using third-party cookies to track visitors. Cookies enable marketers not only to provide visitors with more of the products they’re looking for but also to inform marketers about their audience, which is imperative to effectively directing ads to those most interested in them. And it’s very helpful to know what an audiences’ preferences are beyond the websites they choose to visit.
While meant to improve users’ experiences, the practice of using third-party cookies has users concerned about privacy. The public calls for greater transparency and management over how personal information is used. This is evident from the increased use of ad blockers and the number of users who regularly clear cookies from their computers.
An end to the third-party cookie
Consequently, third-party cookies are going away. Google announced that it will eliminate third-party cookies on Chrome browsers by 2022 to better protect those browsing the web. While Chrome isn’t the first browser to do this (Firefox and Safari have already gotten rid of third-party cookies), it is the biggest browser to follow suit, as it has 68 percent of the global desktop internet browser market share as of March 2020.
Ridding the cyber world of third-party data tracking has come to be called the “death of the third-party cookie.” However, first-party cookies will continue to track user information from the websites they directly visit. For now, only third-party cookies are going away.
So, what happens next?
As Chrome becomes the last to abandon its practice of third-party cookies, the advertising industry must rethink its strategy. But Google is not leaving them high and dry and has already begun developing a solution to cookies, called Privacy Sandbox, which is aimed at satisfying advertisers, publishers, developers, and privacy advocates alike.
As third-party cookies fade out, Privacy Sandbox means to deliver alternatives for advertisers to gather user information that doesn’t compromise users’ privacy and also discourages using intrusive opaque tracking methods, like fingerprinting, meant to get around those users who opt-out of third-party cookies. Amidst an open set of rules governing digital tracking, Google intends for Privacy Sandbox’s ideas to be a win-win between users and advertisers, with its purpose being to deliver relevant ads, measure conversions, and ensure fraud protection.
Here are the five main browser APIs (Application Programming Interface) included in Google’s future web platform, Privacy Sandbox. See the full explanation of Google’s Privacy Sandbox.
Trust Token API
This is Google’s answer to the CAPTCHA authentication feature seen on so many websites that is used to determine computers from people. By using “privacy passes” (non-personalized cryptographic tokens), the Trust Token API helps distinguish and prevent fraud by detecting real human users from bots and more dubious constructs, while not allowing websites to record visitor engagement.
The Privacy Budget API
This API prevents opaque tracking, like fingerprinting, which serves as a subversive substitute to cookies. So, when a user blocks cookies, a developer is still able to collect information from that user to construct unique identifiers. To halt the web-wide practice of recognizing and tracking users, the Privacy Budget API will provide websites with a data budget, specifying that only a certain amount of user data may be accessed from an individual.
Conversion Measurement API
This API has been the most discussed of the five APIs. It is a crucial tool for advertisers in measuring site traffic and new leads in order to understand how well their ads perform and to figure their ROI. The Conversion Measurement API will notify advertisers whether a user has made a purchase or gone to a landing page as a result of their advertisements.
Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC)
FLoC is the answer to the web’s interest-based advertising and intends to target ads to users without violating their privacy. Using machine-learning algorithms, a browser will determine a user’s browsing history and site content in order to put together a “cohort” or “flock” of like users who share interests. Then, advertisers will target users according to the interests of the group with which they identify.
Two Uncorrelated Requests, Then Locally-Executed Decision on Victory (TURTLEDOVE)
TURTLEDOVE is the successor to Google’s first targeted-advertising construct known as PIGIN, which was retired owing to concern over its privacy model. TURTLEDOVE, however, better meets the privacy expectations of its users by permanently housing users’ actions and preferences in the users’ browser rather than some remote, anonymous database.
So, it appears that Space may not be the final frontier, as marketers continue to navigate the wild, wild web and its possibilities. As the English proverb says, “Invention is the mother of necessity,” and marketers will have to use their creative ingenuity to arrive at new alternatives for identifying, targeting, and converting audiences.
Be a marketing Titan:
✓ Understand the third-party cookie deadline so you can plan your marketing strategy accordingly.
✓ Read up on Google’s full array of Privacy Sandbox initiatives and see which ones might work for your business.
✓ Meet with your marketing team to brainstorm ideas and explore alternative methods.
✓ Call Titan for expert ideas on targeting audiences and increasing conversions– we already have sophisticated applications in place to append consumer data.
Maureen Cooke is a happy wife, mom, and owner of a very fat cat. A tortured artist and passionate writer, Maureen has over 15 years’ experience in communications. When she’s not doing something creative, Maureen’s busy wondering why she’s not doing something creative.