Third Party Cookies

Should Marketers be Scared of the End of Third Party Cookies?

Brandex Support Marketing, Technology

Third Party Cookies

Cookies stored by the Brandex Publishing website

Third party cookies are the foundation on which online advertising is built. By allowing any company to trace, track and analyse your web travels, you become a well understood target for product and service promotion.

Most or all websites contain scripts placed there by the builders which place cookies to record your activity. Consider a visit to an online shop – the website must store a cookie to represent you so that as you build your basket the website remembers you from page to page. This is known as using First Party Cookies. Nobody disputes that these cookies are essential for the correct operation of some websites, whether e-commerce or other types of site – these aren’t changing.

What we don’t often realise is that scripts can also store cookies from external services e.g. any site using Google Analytics will place a cookie for Google itself, and probably Google’s advertising business Double Click.  These are referred to as Third Party cookies as they don’t belong to the website you are looking at directly, but to some other online business which wants to know your behaviour.

What’s changing that you should understand?

Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) promoted the concept that your use of the internet and the history of your site visits belongs to you primarily, and that providing this data to other businesses should be a positive opt-in choice by you over which you have control.

Some might argue they don’t mind being followed around the internet by adverts for gadgets, clothes and services from other websites you’ve visited, to learn about products you might consider. Others argue that the amount of data which is harvested without your consent is a risk to your personal security and the rights to your data have never been negotiated in a public manner.

The change due in the near future is the arrival of iOS 14.5 from Apple, where iPhone and iPad users will be prompted to decide whether to allow third party cookies at all – and to remain untracked other than for each website itself (first party).  The firm kicking up the biggest noise about this is Facebook which consider this an assault on small business owners who need to place targeted advertising.

What Does the End of Third Party Cookies Mean for Marketing?

One advertising method available from Google, Microsoft and others is ‘remarketing’. You visit a website, which places a Third Party Cookie, you later visit other websites and banner adverts for that first website start appearing. Without the Third Party Cookie an advertising network can’t identify you across websites making this advertising method difficult.  For now this change (for positive opt-in) is only in iOS but could have a bigger impact if other platforms such as Windows, and other browsers adopt a similar approach. All browsers including Chrome already have the option to block third party cookies if you choose to switch those settings on.

What doesn’t change? Which methods will still work?

  • Banner advertising won’t go away! Websites can still display banners which advertisers have paid for, and use a First Party Cookie to track their performance. What you might not get is the ‘follow me around’ banners.
  • Search based advertising is unchanged (such as paying for clicks for search terms)
  • Dynamic search ads will continue, using your website content to display adverts
  • Audience based targeting on LinkedIn will remain the same
  • Lookalike audiences via Twitter will remain the same
  • Advertising on Facebook and other platforms will remain – but Facebook may know less about the viewer of a page than they’d like
  • For our clients that use SharpSpring for marketing automation, the cookies they place are First Party and not expected to be affected

Google is developing an alternative way of gathering you into anonymous large scale groups or ‘cohorts’ using their “Federated Learning of Cohorts” technology. The idea being that your web browser gives out a variety of data which can be used to identify your visits to other sites at a broad level. To see what your browser can reveal about you try this site.

What should you do personally?

If you regard your site visit history and browsing activity as data owned by you, and don’t wish to share it with others, then opt-out (in iOS 14.5). If you are happy with the status quo, then opt-in, which will be on a site by site and app by app basis. My own view is that I will opt out – I find it creepy that Google and others can assemble a picture of me which I didn’t consent to.

Should marketers be scared of the end of third party cookies?

No. There are many other techniques involved in an effective marketing strategy, not least producing regular content to grow your online audiences.

Further reading

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