Resolving the third-party cookie conundrum

Recently, we have been working with a number of clients on trying to identify solutions to the upcoming cookie…

Recently, we have been working with a number of clients on trying to identify solutions to the upcoming cookie cull and also working around other protocols enforced by browsers (such as ITP) and likewise apps (such as iOS 14.5).

This post has become our first, presumably of an ever-evolving series, on Third-Party tracking. More specifically how to circumnavigate some of the existing and upcoming cookie restrictions.

By 2023, brands and online marketers dependent on advertising on social media platforms or websites to build themselves will be at a high disadvantage. This is because advertisement falls under third party cookies, restricted by the leading search engines browsers.

Allow us to briefly explain what third party cookies are, their relation to search engines, reasons for their downfall and their possible replacement.

Significant types of cookies

First party cookies and third-party cookies. Both of them are similar in their technical makeup. They perform similar functions. The difference comes in how they are used.

First Party Cookies

First party cookies are created from the hostname or domain of a given website.

Loosley, if you are visiting molzana.com, a first-party cookie will be created and “stamped” with the domain molzana.com or data.molzana, or any other sub-domain stemming from the main domain.

This stamp, the domain name, is what ad-blockers and other cookie control mechanisms looks for when deciding whether to block that specific cookie. Cookies set by the domain are deemed First Party, as such are safe from cookie control

First party cookies are usually set and utilised by the site to enhance the user’s experience, an example is keeping your signed in on-site, many methods of doing so rely on first party cookies.

Third Party Cookies

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are not domain created. Instead, they are established by advertisers or other analytical tools.

The method by which they are set is almost identical. However, the domain name that is set, or stamped, by the cookie is done so by another site. For example, a third party cookie set on molzana.com would be created from and by another domain name, such as facebook.com, google.com or ads.linkedin.com.

Details about third-party cookies

Third-party cookies function through the installation of a JavaScript code snipper, placed on the site. It must be said. at this stage, this script is knowingly installed by the site’s developers.

Third-party cookies track your browsing habits, enabling them to build an understanding of you and your behaviour. Why? To serve ads =, across the web, that relate to your interests and propensity to purchase a product or service. This is why you see ads for specific products you have viewed on Facebook, News Sites and other websites.

An example, if you visit healthline.com, and search for ways of reducing knee inflammation, you consume a couple of articles or guides on how to suppress pain or mitigate the risk of injury. You then leave the. site.

Later that day, you may be on another, unrelated website and find an advertisement about ‘wellness and keeping fit’ served from Google ads.

Google ads utilise data from third party cookies that sit on healthline.com in this case.

The cookie has used any previous data it holds on you such as location, age and other demographic information and combined this with products or services you may be in the market for.

In this case, this could be healthcare, pharmaceuticals, physiotherapy and suchlike.

Cookies enable the creation, access and maintenance of user-profiles for and by advertisers. These profiles created are sources for customer data, which leads to the establishment of an audience. Then, users with similar interests are grouped in cohorts, and targeted by advertisers.

The downfall of third party cookies

Privacy is essential and greatly valued in our day to day life. Increased technology development has levelled up internet services for work, business, pleasure and research. Development of apps that have drawn people’s attention and engulfed within them, daily. For example, Facebook, Instagram, Google, Safari, Snapchat and TikTok, among others.

Some of the aforementioned apps are the most significant source of third party cookies on the websites and apps we visit.

Certain activities based on the acceptance (or lack thereof) of cookies on a domain have resulted in a breach of the users’ privacy. This in turn brought about legislation such as GDPR and CCPA.

This has meant digital data privacy is a highly regulated space.

Recently, we have heard of verified cases of online privacy violations through third party cookies. For example; Third parties receive data from Zoom without notifying the users and fining Facebook for its role in Cambridge Analytica data harvesting.

Laws impacting third party cookies

GDPR ( General Data Protection Regulation): was passed by the European Union on 25th May 2018. 

This law gives subjects the right to access their data and demand erasing of their data by an organization or company. It protects personal data revealing racial and ethnic origin, political stand(s), religious or ideological perception and opinions or trade union membership. More simply, it prevents identifiable information is passed automatically to advertisers such as names, email addresses and location data. It even goes so far as to prevent health apps from storing and utilising, without consent, heart rate. and other biological data.

Other notable legislation is CCPA ( California Consumer Privacy Act). It empowers California residents with rights to opt-out of third-party data sales, collection of data, awareness of data collected, having data erased, and fair pricing and equal services.

The banning of third party cookies by browsers

Safari, the popular web browser developed by Apple, began with Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in 2017. In addition, Safari has increased cookies restrictions and recently announced blocking cookies for cross-site resources by default.

We have seen Apple roll out similar measures within iOS apps. Since the introduction of iOS 14.5 earlier this year, advertisers and app developers can no longer lean on device IDs to identify users over long periods of time. App users now have to consent to app tracking explicitly, which suppresses the data collected by the likes of Facebook and Google.

Firefox has Enhanced Tracking protection, which gives users more control over their data. ‘Standard’ settings on Firefox today have enabled the Enhanced Tracking Protection to be turned on by default by all its users automatically. In addition, the installation of a shield icon resembling a lock shows that the tracking protection is active.

Google has recently announced its plan to block third party cookies on chrome browsers. It introduced, Privacy Sandbox initiative, in 2019 and the following year, it revealed a 2022 implementation date. Personal user tracking, according to Google, will be replaced by group-based ad targeting.

With all the major tech giants seemingly waging war on third-party cookies, they are soon set to become a thing of the past or at least a river that is running dry for advertisers.

Are there any legalised and safe tracking technologies left? What replaces third-party cookies?

Remember, first-party cookies (domain created) will still function on browsers and operating systems that remove third party cookies. However, the chances of many sites emulating the powerful analytics, advertising and publisher networks that the big ad-tech firms have built is highly unlikely.

Universal ID – unique creation by an ad-tech company that provides user identity to enhance user identification across the supply chain without coinciding cookies.

Contextual advertisement; this is where digital content is automatically matched with a promotion message. An example; an ad about the prices of blenders and juicers appearing on a website about maintaining health with regular smoothies or a mix of organic products.

Cloud delivery and server-side tracking

Also known as side-server tracking. This refers to when a tag sends data into your (web or any other) server that belongs to you, and then your server passes that data to the destination server.

It is reliable because; data management is on a short scale hence ensuring more control over the data being submitted; the processing is taken to the cloud, thus leading to an increase in application and performance o the device.

Conclusion

In a few years, third party cookies will be resigned to the history books. However, adjustment to the new technology that will replace them may take a while. It will be a disadvantage to businesses and brands greatly dependent on adverts on websites and social media. 

On the other hand, the replacement is very beneficial for some, especially about privacy and data protection, side-server tracking, and universal ID, among different positive outcomes.

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Data, Analytics & Technology Agency

London & Manchester.


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