In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the movement for protecting personal data, especially with Social Media channels becoming a regular part in people’s daily routines. In May 2018, the European Union implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which was designed to regulate organizations which collect data related to people from the EU and to impose fines on companies which violate the privacy standards they have set. According to the GDPR, people can be associated with unique identifiers through their devices, cookie identifiers, or other tools that make them leave a trace when they browse the web. Since these unique identifiers can be qualified as personal data, they are therefore also subject to the GDR.
In this article, we decided to analyze what cookies are and whether it’s a method which will still be used by advertisers in the future.
What are 3rd party cookies?
Even though most people have an idea of what cookies are, not everyone knows about the difference between the existing types of cookies. Cookies are small pieces of data sent from a website and stored on a user’s device while a user is browsing the site.
First-party cookies are usually set by the domain a user is visiting and saved on the user’s computer for this specific domain. These cookies help enhance the user experience and ensure that they can browse the website’s features seamlessly, without, for example, having to log into your account on an ecommerce website every time you click on a different page. These types of cookies can be deleted by the users, should they wish to do so.
Third party cookies are not set by the domain a user is visiting and are usually used for tracking and for online advertising. For a third party cookie to be created, a request is sent from the web page to a third party’s server. The file which is requested then serves as a tracking cookie. These services are used for ad retargeting (following website visitors who have visited a website at some point and showing them ads of specific products they might have shown interest in), social buttons, or live chat services. They can similarly be blocked by a user through a browser setting.
Google’s Privacy Sandbox Initiative
In May 2019, Google announced their Privacy Sandbox initiative – one which was meant to profoundly increase users’ privacy on the web. Their goal is to phase out third party cookies on Google Chrome browsers by 2022. This will give them more time to find a suitable way to both protect the privacy of users, but to also maintain an ecosystem where advertisers, publishers and developers can work together.
In their announcement, Google said it wants to discourage techniques such as fingerprinting, which is when companies build unique profiles for users based on an their device, the type of font they have installed, or other specific details. These details then help match the users across websites. However, unlike with cookies, users don’t usually know they’re giving someone access to their information, nor are they able to disable this feature.
Firefox and Safari Measures
In September 2019, Firefox started blocking (by default) all third party cookies in order to enhance their users’ privacy. An Enhanced Tracking Protection is now automatically turned on for all users worldwide and can be recognized by the shield icon in the address bar, as seen in the screenshot below:
Users are able to see a list of companies which are being blocked, but also turn off blocking for specific websites should they wish to.
In 2020, Apple also announced that their latest version of their browser, Safari 13.1, also came with important measures to fight against cross-site tracking and block third party cookies. Their privacy features, called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) were initially announced in 2017 and they have continued to work on new features within their updates.
What are the implications?
Increasing restrictions for user tracking on browsers will certainly affect online advertising companies or companies which use third party cookies for behavioral targeting, retargeting, and attribution. Tracking platforms become much less effective from a business perspective and will likely need to rethink their strategy on data collection. Even though Safari and Firefox’s measures have already reduced the use of third party cookies, Chrome has a much larger share of the browser market, with about 56% of all users using Chrome in 2019.
Google is still working out the mechanisms which they plan to use within the Privacy Sandbox and are gathering feedback from users, marketers, and developers. This is certainly a move that leaves space for a lot of innovation in advertising, also accounting for the protection of users’ personal data.