How to Prepare for the End of 3rd-Party Cookies

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By Boris Dzhingarov

There have long been complaints from privacy advocates about the use of 3rd party cookies by websites and ad networks. It’s something that confuses non-technical people and technical people alike who worry that it’s going to be the end of the advertising world as we know it.

In this article, we briefly cover what 3rd party cookies are in comparison to 1st party cookies, and then move onto how to prepare for the future demise of third-party ones.

1st Party vs. 3rd Party Cookies

Without wishing to get too technical, it’s worth clarifying the key differences between 1st party and 3rd party cookies.

What’s in a Cookie?

A cookie file is a text file that’s created within a web browser. It’s nothing evil. What it has primarily been used for is to help a website know when a visitor has returned. They might assign a unique ID and, when they return, the browser checks for the presence of a cookie file for that website, and if there is one, it reads it and passes the information onto the website.

Second, the website can match the ID in the cookie file to a past visitor (even if they don’t have your identifying details like your name, address, etc.). They can then say, “Welcome back!

What’s a 1st Party Cookie?

A first-party cookie file is one created by the website that you’re visiting. It’s related directly to your visit and nothing else.

What’s a 3rd Party Cookie?

A 3rd party cookie is different. When visiting a website, they may wish to display advertising from Google or another ad network. Usually, they rely on a 3rd party cookie that they have permission to read, to identify, or at least have a rough idea of who the visitor is.

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With a 3rd party cookie, an advertising platform can know some of the sites that you’ve visited before even if they don’t know your name, etc. Therefore, if you’ve visited a kite flying website, a paintball website, and a chess-playing website recently, they may choose to display advertising around one of those topics. Without having a 3rd party cookie, they may be unable to know this information, and so struggle to personalize advertising unobtrusively.

Preparing for the End of Third-Party Cookies

When preparing for the end, it’s important not to panic. Various companies including Google are working on cookie-less solutions and, as they termed it, “alternative identifiers” to help solve the problem of reliance on third-party cookies.

Here is what you can do about it:

Expect Cross-Network Data Sharing to End

If you’re a publisher with multiple, large websites that share data to improve advertising results, this likely will end at some point. While the alternative ways to identify and connect visitors may happen, don’t bank on it!

While first-party cookies will still help to tentatively identify previous visitors, it’s likely that other than referral traffic data indicating that the visitor has arrived from another site in the network, not much will be shared otherwise. Plan for all the implications of this as best as possible.

Expand First-Party Data Collection Strategies

When it’s not going to be possible to share customer information between sites within the network, there’s nothing to stop the collection of valuable information on each site, individually.

Therefore, consider signing visitors up to a newsletter for each site by promoting the opt-in form more actively. Run promotions that require visitors to share some information to participate.

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For companies that do business in Europe, do ensure that any strategies are in keeping with GDPR, the EU privacy initiative.

Consider Fraud Risks & Check on Progress

Data sharing between third parties is not just for advertising networks. Companies currently rely on outside companies that specialize in customer verification, fraud detection, and using other methods to confirm the customer information supplied.

Using verification services with new customer sign-ups helps to confirm if the order they just placed is likely to be valid and wasn’t done using inaccurate information or a stolen credit card (that’s not reported as such yet).

Get into discussions with the company or companies that provide such services to see how they are working to manage the removal of support for third-party cookies in web browsers like Chrome. They should be working the problem, as it’s part and parcel of their business.

Web Analytics May Need an Alternative Solution

Web analytics often shares data between domains. This may come to a screeching halt when Google stops supporting 3rd party cookies in Chrome.

Fortunately, the search giant has their Google Analytics solution with millions of users, so they have a vested interest in solving the problem for their own product. Alternatively, if they don’t, consider switching analytics to a different provider like Clicky or Oribi if they’ve found a solution.

Ads Could Become More Contextual

Advertisements online are either contextual or they’re based on what you’ve searched for recently.

The former is where advertisements are selected based on the content being viewed now. So, a fishing site will see outdoors-related advertising, and possibly about fishing products if there’s an applicable ad inventory for that topic presently. This is likely to increase if ad networks cannot get around 3rd party issues with cookies.

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The latter is where advertisements are shown based on past interests indicated by the search history or previous websites visited. To do this relies on third-party data sharing, which is why it may go away if other solutions aren’t found.

Whether publishers will discover that contextual adverts pay less than personalized ones based on a visitor’s online activities remains to be seen.

Learn About the Privacy Sandbox

Apple and Google are looking to use a kind of privacy sandbox that provides a new way to work with data and still provides the ability for advertisers to target users.

While this is an ongoing development, it’s a good idea to read as much as you can in the technical press to keep up with the latest progress. Depending on what looks like being the confirmed solution, it may materially change what preparations are necessary.

There is still much to know about how things will pan out for third-party cookies. Rest assured though – tech companies will figure a way through. Why is that? Because they have to.