What the end of third-party cookies means for digital marketing

third party cookies

You’ve probably seen the news that Google intends to phase out third-party cookies by 2022. But what does this mean for digital marketing?


The difference between first-party and third-party cookies


First-party cookies are created by domains that you visit and help ensure you get a better user experience, for example by remembering your username, passwords and items you’ve put in your shopping cart.


Third-party cookies can get onto your computer via code on a site that you’ve visited, but they belong to third parties such as AdTech platforms that want to track your internet movements in order to decide on which digital advertising you get to see. The result is a spookily accurate, tailor-made advertising experience.


It’s clear that from an advertiser’s point of view third-party cookies are enormously useful – but people have become increasingly unhappy about the idea that their internet activity is being monitored.


That’s why Google has made a commitment to phase out third-party cookies by 2022, effectively putting an end to the sale of ads using personally identifiable information from web browsers.


David Temkin, Google’s director of product management, ads privacy and trust explained in a recent blog post that the use of third-party cookies had led to an erosion of trust.


He cited a study by Pew Research Center that found that 72% of Americans report feeling that all, almost all or most of what they do online or while using their cellphone is being tracked by advertisers, technology firms or other companies, and 81% feel that the potential risks of this data collection outweigh the benefits. This is why Google has decided to remove its support for third-party cookies. 


However, this does not mean the end of targeted advertising. Google has been working with the broader industry to find new ways to protect individuals’ privacy while still providing excellent results for advertisers. 


What will replace third-party cookies?


In particular, Google is working on the development of privacy-preserving APIs which prevent individual tracking while still making tailored advertising possible.


An API (application programming interface) is set of functions and procedures that allows


enables two applications to talk to each other. An example is the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) API, which is a privacy preserving mechanism designed to enable interest-based advertising. It does this by grouping users into cohorts based on similar interests: it allocates a cohort id to a user based on their browser history, while protecting the user’s privacy and preventing them from being personally tracked as they travel from one website to the next.


“Advances in aggregation, anonymisation, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies offer a clear path to replacing individual identifiers,” Temkin wrote in his blog post. “In fact, our latest tests of FLoC show one way to effectively take third-party cookies out of the advertising equation and instead hide individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.”


What next?


The next step is coming soon: Chrome will make FLoC-based cohorts available for public testing imminently, and Google expects to begin testing FLoC-based cohorts with advertisers in Google Ads in Q2 2021. 


“Chrome also will offer the first iteration of new user controls in April and will expand on these controls in future releases, as more proposals reach the origin trial stage, and they receive more feedback from end users and the industry,” wrote Temkin.


“Keeping the internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy — and that means an end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the web.”


It looks like we are heading for a win-win situation: one that protects privacy without damaging the power of digital advertising.



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