Is the internet facing a future without third-party cookies?

Recent proposals and initiatives announced by Google suggest the end of third-party cookies is likely, but how will this take shape and what will data collection look like in their absence? We talk about Google’s big changes below, and how they will affect your online experience.

What are third-party cookies?

Third-party cookies are cookies created by a different domain/server than the one a user is currently visiting. These are typically created by third-party entities such as advertisers and marketers to track your online activity on any website. They also drive popular page functions like live chats.

Why is Google removing third-party cookies on Chrome?

Back in January, Google announced an open-source initiative to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome as part of a larger effort to improve data protection and privacy for users. While other browsers (such as Firefox and Safari) have blocked third-party cookies outright, Google has opted instead on slowly phasing them out to limit disruptions to the web ecosystem.

To further promote better user privacy, Google also introduced the “Privacy Sandbox” in an August blog update, a set of proposed standards intended to support online advertising while still allowing for improved data controls.

When is Google eliminating third-party cookies?

Google has said they hope to cultivate a web environment in which they can block third-party cookies entirely within two years. Thus far, that seems more a hopeful deadline than a hard one. Google seems to be dedicated to minimising disruption before moving ahead with anything concrete.

What will Google Chrome look like post-third-party-cookies?

Ultimately, Google is putting up guardrails designed to compel the internet world to develop newer, more private, and more secure alternatives to third-party cookies. Without them, Google should be able to exercise greater oversight over data tracking.

Google isn’t the first browser to ban third-party cookies, so ad-tech providers may already have a preview of what to expect. However, it is the biggest, especially in New Zealand, which means Kiwi advertisers and marketers (like us) will be on our toes and be prepared for what’s next.

So, what will Chrome look like when third-party cookies finally disappear?

Greater focus on first-party data

The move will make access to first-party data much more important for the success of targeted online advertising. Marketers can still collect this data by transparently asking consent from users. Indeed, Google will be less affected by their own rule than third-party publishers and advertisers, as they can still collect user data from their search engine, YouTube, and other Google platforms.

Less personalised web experience

The post-third-party-cookies future depends somewhat on the solutions developed over the next two years. Right now, massive infrastructure of third-party data tracking and trading reveals itself on nearly every page we visit, showing ads and native content tailored specifically to our online identity and user history. Without third-party cookies, users are likely to see ads less tailored to their interests.

Data and advertising control

The larger issue raised by marketers and publishers around the world is that control of user data at large will be in Google’s hands, which will disrupt the current ecosystem’s advertising competition. Furthermore, an online ecosystem where only large platforms can afford to buy first-party data from Google may result in a growing inequality of advertising relevance. In that ecosystem, smaller advertisers and publishers can’t offer the same level of user experience or secure ad revenue through third-party ads.

What options do marketers have when third-party cookies go?

Ultimately, marketers are calling for the development of a practical and effective alternative to third-party cookies before Google’s two-year timeline is up.

Adform, a global advertising platform soon to launch in New Zealand, is one such alternative. Adform works to gain transparent consent from a user to share their data across different publishers using first-party cookies. Having a user provide explicit consent to have their data used for marketing and advertising purposes gives the user control over how their online experience will look like and what ads they will see. This, in turn, ideally creates opportunities for advertisers and publishers to create ads that are better targeted, resulting in reduced ad waste and boosts in conversions.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox is also another up-and-coming alternative that will leverage first-party cookies while protecting its users’ data. However, there’s still no clarity about how this will work. In addition, advertisers are wary about the tech giant controlling a huge aspect of the advertising system. Keep an eye out for further developments!

Finally, businesses need to start brainstorming for strategies that don’t involve the use of third-party cookies, such as using targeted social media ads or email marketing. As we all know, social media tools now allow for hyper-targeting, and advertising on newsletters with a huge following as well as leveraging email marketing data remain to be viable options.

The end of third-party cookies is coming either way, so the more alternatives we have, and the earlier we shift our focus to invest in them, the better!

About the Author

Gregor Jamieson, is the Managing Director of Digital Popcorn (the Enterprise arm of Pure SEO). Digital Popcorn is a digital marketing agency with offices in New Zealand and Australia. Providing SEO, SEM, CRO, social media marketing, content creation and online advertising services tailored to Enterprise Companies looking to grow Nationally and Internationally.