The End of Third Party Cookies

The End Of Third Party Cookies

All the way back in January 2020, Google announced that they would be scrapping third party cookies in Chrome, setting a deadline for the start of 2022. Since then, plenty of discussion around the future of advertising without third party cookies has seen Google extend this deadline several times, having just announced a new deadline of 2024.

The move to cease third party cookies in the browser is not a surprise; other browsers like Firefox and Safari cut third party cookie support years ago. However, Chrome is the biggest browser to do so yet, with around 65% of all web users using chrome at time of writing.

The GDPR ruling in 2019 further established a need for greater user privacy and made the deprecation of third party cookies a matter of when, not if. Google have outlined that growing user concerns over their data privacy is the main reason for the move away from third party cookies, but critics has suggested that they stand to gain from advertisers using Google’s data instead.

Here’s a quick summary of what these cookies are, and what we might expect to see once they are phased out:

 

What are cookies

There are two types of cookies: first party cookies and third party cookies. They’re quite different:

First party cookies

These are stored under the same domain that a user is visiting, and stores data on their activity on the site. This could be to identify a user between pages, remember their preferences and improve user experience. Think of how a website remembers what items you’ve added to your shopping bag.

Importantly, advertisers can’t see from first party cookies what users look at on other domains.

Third party cookies

These are created by a third party domain, not the domains you are visiting. A third party cookie is available on any website that loads the third party server codes, and stores the cookie on the device.

These cookies track your activity across different websites and use this information to advertise to you. If you’ve ever wondered how one site knows to advertise a product to you which you’ve viewed previously, that’ll be down to the third party cookies.

In short, first party cookies are used for user preferences, whereas third party cookies are used for advertising purposes. At the moment Google is only focused on deprecating third party cookies – first party cookies for user preferences are safe.

 

So, what will it be replaced with?

Google is proposing to replace third party cookies with their own ‘Privacy Sandbox’, first announced in 2019. The sandbox was described as “a solution that both really protects user privacy and also helps content remain freely accessible”.

As part of this plan, Google’s introduced of the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) scheme, which was their original cookie replacement plan. This would have tracked user behaviour across the web by grouping users into “cohorts” based on their interests.

Yet in January 2022, Google announced that they were scrapping FLoC. The most likely cause was concerns around ‘fingerprinting’, whereby advertisers might be able to identify individuals within cohorts and track them. Fingerprinting is something Google aimed to inhibit with their introduction of the privacy sandbox, and instead are looking to replace this with Topics.

Topics

Rather than grouping users together like FLoC, Topics allows the browser to learn about the user on an individual basis from their browsing activity. Chrome will record the domains that a user visits across a three-week period and record the information. Topics will then assign interests to the user from a pool of around 300 ‘topics’ based on their browsing behaviour across the period.

When a user then visits a domain that supports Topics for advertising purposes, Google will share three ‘topics’ for the user at random from the top five topics assigned to them per week, across the three weeks of data. This then guides advertisers in choosing which ads to show a user without having granular user data.

 

Despite the introduction Topics in place of FLoC, Google have extended the phase out of third party cookies, saying: “The most consistent feedback we’ve received is the need for more time to evaluate and test the new Privacy Sandbox technologies before deprecating third-party cookies in Chrome.” So we are now looking at 2024 unless it’s extended again.

We will probably see a lot of marketers and advertisers alike leveraging their first party data more, potentially seeing a return to more traditional marketing strategies too. The cheap, highly-targeted advertising which was possible through third party cookies won’t be an option, and so brands and advertisers will need to explore other options for clever advertising and grabbing user attention.

 

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