If you’ve been paying even half a bit of attention to the world of the Internet, you’ll probably have heard that Google is doing away with third-party cookies. Aside from the fact that pretty much every digital entity has made every cookie joke under the sun, providing a lifetime of entertainment – the removal of third-party cookies from Google’s popular browser, Chrome, is going to have a lasting impact on how individuals, such as yourself, and marketers, such as us here at 2Stallions – hi! – navigate our day-to-day online.

“But why?” you ask. Let’s backtrack a little.

What is a Cookie & How do they Work?

If you want the technical jargon, a cookie is a small text file in the browser that websites can write to, specific to a device (sometimes referenced as the user). We’ve been using them since the early 1990s. In the beginning, they were all about improving eCommerce experiences. Since then brands have been using them to track website traffic, improve the user experience on websites, and collect data to help with marketing efforts. Digital marketers in particular are fond of the data that the cookies provide, using them to learn about which visitors are visiting their websites. 

There are two specific kinds of cookies, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two to have a good grasp on what it is that is being phased out and why. 

First-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are created, published, and controlled by the website you visit. They are ‘owned’ by the actual places you go online, they improve your user experience on that specific website. Among other things, first-party cookies are in charge of things like remembering what’s in your shopping cart, your items viewing history, and the preferences you selected. If you’ve ever wondered why Amazon remembers your name when you come back to their website after months of being a no-show, it’s because of their first-party cookies. In a nutshell: first-party cookies collect behavioral data to help the website owner improve their services – the information these kinds of cookies gather is shared directly with the website owner.

Third-Party Cookies

Third-party cookies are created by third parties and set by an external server through advertising technology. These kinds of cookies collect data that is accessible on any website that uses the third-party server’s code. Third-party cookies let advertisers track users across the Internet and then use that information to set target advertising campaigns for wherever that user goes. Keep in mind that cookies often get intermingled with other things like pixels, tags, and scripts – just remember that they are not the same thing.

Digital advertisers, for example, use third-party cookie data to learn about visitors to their websites. Using cookie data they can see what kind of website visitors frequently visit, the kinds of purchases they make, and any interests that they’ve shown. Information like that allows advertisers and marketers to tailor ad campaigns and other content that they publish to better reach their target audience.

Why are Cookies being Phased Out?

While the idea of cookies being phased out may have surprised some, many digital marketers saw it coming. The last decade has seen the rise of data privacy and security concerns; governments all around the world have been investigating and regulating data privacy issues. This is one of the reasons why in October 2019, Europe’s courts ruled that all users in the European Union (EU) had to be able to consent to any and all analytical cookies before a website use analytics or tracks them on the user’s browser. Of course, prior to that, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) already cracked down on the requirements for data privacy, and many other regions and countries have matched it since.

Data privacy is in, and abuse of cookies is out.

So are we surprised? Not really. After scandals like Cambridge Analytica, there was a certain feeling of ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop’ as people slowly became aware that personal information and data privacy are vital to peace of mind and, as it turns out, world politically security.

Google isn’t getting rid of all cookies. They’re focused on those pesky third-party cookies – the ones that advertisers are using to track users across the Internet to figure out how they tick. First-party cookies and Google’s Privacy Sandbox Tools are safe.

Side Note: 

Let’s be very clear for a minute: digital marketing isn’t about secretly spying on Internet users and third-party cookies aren’t malicious data-collecting minions created by evil corporate overlords. Third-party cookies have served us all well for a very long time. The reason why you look up things online and get results that are right on the money is because of cookies. The reason why you found that great pair of shoes in an e-commerce store when you didn’t know where to look, also because of cookies.

In the age of digital privacy awareness and new laws and regulations limiting corporations from abusing the data collected, we often fall into a misconception that because of a few bad eggs all digital marketing and data-collection agencies are nefarious. That’s simply not true. It is true, as with many things in life, that some entities choose to abuse the information they are privy to in order to swing things their way. Netflix’s The Great Hack is a good documentary about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and does a better job of illustrating the dark side of the data-collection world. It is also true that data privacy is important, and as we move forward we need to know how to respect it, and that is one of the reasons we are seeing this cookie phase-out.

How is this the Phasing out of Third-Party Cookies to Impact Digital Marketing?

While the so-called ‘death’ of third-party cookies on Chrome will be inconvenient, digital marketers will still be able to leverage and target Google Ads, powered by Google Chrome’s first-party cookies, and the Privacy Sandbox tools. Some ad software and external platforms, however, will struggle with these changes as they require the third-party data collected by the cookies. It’s likely that many of these platforms will be forced to innovate or take a huge hit.

What is clear, however, is that digital marketers and advertisers are going to have to change the way they work. The digital era has opened a lot of doors and closed others – with data privacy and sustainability awareness on the rise, it’s time for digital marketing to take a good look at how it obtains and uses visitor data. 

Wrapping Up

So, it’s bye-bye third-party cookies on Chrome, and hello new world of data privacy awareness and understanding. Not to run this cookie analogy too much further, but we should have seen it coming – they’re called cookies, not carrots, clearly we were going to figure out the weren’t all that healthy for us eventually.

What are digital marketers going to do? None of us are clairvoyant, but it’s safe to say that digital marketing is going to evolve, as it has done in the past and will no doubt be asked to do again in the future.

We live a digitized existence, and as our technologies evolve, so must the laws and regulations that keep us safe and happy. This is the normal way of things: step by step, everything changes. Now the question is, how will we rise to this opportunity?

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