The “Cookieless” Era Myth

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Issam Arab Avatar




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The term “cookieless era” refers to the idea that cookies, will no longer be used to personalize and track users on the web. It has been quite some time now that we hear about it. Announced by Google back in 2020 that over the next two years, it will phase out third-party cookies in Chrome, joining Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox who have already completely blocked them.

So, does it mean that cookies will not be set by websites in browsers, or that there will be no systematic tracking and advertising anymore? Not at all!

It only means that first party cookies will be possible to set as a default by websites in users browsers (supposing also that cookies will be set with reference to the consent provided for each specific purpose such as advertising, analysis, personalization etc.. but let’s leave this aside for the moment) rather than third party cookies, and therefore all user data collection, treatment, and storage are allowed as long as the webmaster originated the request to set a cookie from their own website domain rather than another domain such as that of the marketing technology service provider.

So, this practically means that almost everything that was possible before is still possible if web admins or digital marketers who process the tracking scripts from their own set of resources.
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How blocking third-party cookie would respond to privacy and compliance concerns?

It is unlikely that third-party cookies will disappear entirely anytime soon so that we go entirely cookieless, but their use may evolve and change as privacy concerns and regulations continue to develop. Something granted is that there will always be less browsers and devices supporting third-party cookies.

Anyway, blocking third-party cookies would make it only more difficult to circulate the produced data through tracking to other systems and organizations, especially advertising personalization vendors who rely on a wider diameter of shared customer data pools across multiple websites.

Technology Giants

We deduce that few tech giants and industry influencers are promoting the new “cookieless era” topic as a privacy compliance assurance, but the truth is that they are excluding integrations with few vendors that rely on third-party cookies, establishing closed boundaries around their own territories, especially in the field of paid advertising and digital media investments by making it impossible to share data resources across platforms and advertising vendors. Naturally, companies with advertising budgets will shift a part of their budget allocation previously spent in programmatic advertising targeting profiled audiences through cookies or maybe even increase their spending in case of an efficiency reduction to be spent within the premises of these technology  giants with less diversification in the marketing mix. Focusing more for example on Google Search Advertising, or Facebook targeted audience segmentation who still maintain the capability to target highly profiled audiences.

First-party Cookies Vs. Third-party Cookies

All cookies independently if they are first-party or third-party are small pieces of data that are stored on a user’s device in the format of a text file during the navigation of a certain website, and they are used to track online activity and to store relevant information that can be retrieved by websites to personalize the web experience.

The only difference between a first-party and a third-party cookie is the fact that they are downloaded from the web servers where they are hosted to the user browser either through a web request to the same domain that the user is navigating in the case of first party cookies, or they are requested from a third domain name that the web owner does not have control over. In the example below you can see an example of two cookies on BBC website, one set on their own domain while the other is set on a third-party domain name.

an example of a first-party and a third-party cookie

There are still many legitimate uses for cookies in general, such as helping websites function properly and providing a more personalized experience for users. Additionally, there are alternative tracking technologies that may be used to personalize and track users online, such as browser fingerprinting and device fingerprinting.

Third-party cookies & cookieless data collection

Third party cookies are not conceptually malicious if they are intentionally used and regulated by a strong policy and an effective governance over their implementation and way work. But they pose same technical risks such as first party cookies, in addition to the fact that if they are collecting data for marketing purposes there would be a different concern around data breaches and unauthorized treatments by such third-party authorities who are supposed to handle the cookies and assure the correct treatment rather than the direct stakeholder who owns the website.

It is always important to monitor your own website as a marketer or webmaster to be sure that there are no unauthorized cookies set by different scripts and technology vendors originating from different domain names than that of your own website.

First-party cookies & cookieless data collection

As mentioned above, all sort of privacy infringements or violations are still possible with first party cookies. Though, considering the growing need to rely more on first-party cookies, the data structure and solution design for marketers now more than ever needs to be more branched and complex so that companies continue to deliver marketing efforts with the scope of reaching their sales and ROI targets covering the unclaimed gap to cover with high precision customers based on their known affinity groups, interests, and demographics. Such aspects include leveraging more and more an owned data measurement strategy that needs to forecast the following elements:

·       Tagging & Data Integrity

To enrich the first party marketing data, companies enhance their own analytics and marketing taxonomy implementation to collect more parameters about product categories, consumer segments, specific interactions or behaviors, and even demographics. This makes their implementation processes vulnerable to inaccurate tagging criteria and naming conventions, as well as increasing the production of data waste due to errors and faulty data collection across multiple or big websites and digital assets.

·       Cookie Law Banner

A cookie law policy banner is a more than a statement. It is a declaration of intentions and a strategy commitment to cookie settings and related data treatment. Most of the times conveyed through a configurable banner to accept, deny, or modify the cookie consent settings for technologies and cookie categories that the users intend to opt for.

From a visual point of view, almost all websites show an initial banner as such, however very few really activate their tracking technologies and scripts based on the user configuration and consents.

·       Consent Management

Other than for the need previously mentioned point on cookie policy banners that are supposed to collect consents, in many occasions users perform contracts, use features, and require services on the internet. As a result, all contracts and inquiries performed should be associated to the specific consents for which the user intends to grant the service provider. Especially for marketing processing and third-party data sharing.

Many companies don’t properly track, store, or use the consents provided by their users or face a management challenge in terms of efficiently streamlining these consents into their CRM or internal processes pipelines.

·       Privacy compliance

One major aspect of the growth of first party data is the risk of violating privacy laws by exposing customers personal or sensitive data to unauthorized collection, treatment, and storage. This can happen due to technical mistakes such as the leakage of passwords, credit card numbers, or personal information into marketing automation and analytics systems; Also it can happen due to lack of knowledge of which parameters can be collected, how, and for how long the data can be retained.

FAQs: Understanding Changes in Online Tracking and User Privacy

What changes are occurring in online tracking methods, and how do they affect user privacy?

There’s a shift away from traditional online tracking methods like third-party cookies due to privacy concerns and evolving browser policies. This change aims to enhance user privacy by reducing the reliance on cookies for tracking user behavior across websites.

How do advertisers adapt to the evolving landscape of online tracking without third-party cookies?

Advertisers are exploring alternative methods for audience targeting and tracking in the absence of third-party cookies. This includes leveraging first-party data, implementing contextual targeting strategies, and adopting new technologies for user identification.

What role do first-party cookies play in the evolving landscape of online tracking?

First-party cookies, set by the website a user is visiting, are becoming increasingly important for tracking user behavior and delivering personalized experiences. Advertisers are focusing on collecting and analyzing first-party data to better understand their audiences and tailor their marketing efforts accordingly.

How are digital marketing platforms adjusting their strategies to comply with changing privacy regulations?

Digital marketing platforms are updating their strategies and technologies to align with evolving privacy regulations and user expectations. This includes enhancing consent management processes, providing transparency around data collection practices, and offering tools for users to control their privacy settings.

What are some best practices for businesses to navigate the changing landscape of online tracking and user privacy?

Businesses can prepare for the evolving landscape of online tracking by prioritizing transparency, user consent, and data protection. This includes investing in technologies that prioritize user privacy, adopting privacy-by-design principles, and staying informed about emerging trends and regulations in the digital marketing space.

TAGLAB Automated Marketing and Analytics Tags Auditing
TAGLAB Automated Marketing and Analytics Tags Auditing
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