No cookie for you!

death of cookie

In digital advertising, the death of the 3rd party cookie is a hot topic right now. For those who are unfamiliar a cookie is a small text file that resides in your internet browser memory cache and stores personal data. Originally these cookies were designed so that a website could “remember” your log in information so that you didn’t have enter it in every time you visited. They could also contain information about your preferences on layout, content, etc.

As technology has evolved advertisers have tapped into this system to use it to track your every move on the web. Ever notice how you’ll be looking at something on “Wish” and than a hour later you receive promotions that are eerily similar to the products you were browsing. It’s far from coincidental. What happens is while you are visiting your intended website, a 3rd party adserver reads all your previously existing cookies and segments you into a demographic based on the information contained within them. Instantaneously, using that data to show an advertisement that’s most relevant to you. The advertisement then drops a third party cookie (ie: it didn’t originate from the site itself) in your browser cache, this contains all the previous data collected plus injects some of its own proprietary info. Since almost all websites contain ads this cookie data continues to grow becoming ever more intuitive as you browse. That is until you delete your browser cache/cookies. Then the process starts all over. You never opt in and there is virtually no efficient way to opt out. At least until now.

With the rise of privacy breaches and concern around privacy in general. The makers of the web browsers have taken it upon themselves to solve these problems. Safari, Firefox and Google Chrome are all taking steps to limit both the reading and writing of third party cookies to protect their users right to privacy. Don’t worry, first party cookies will remain in tact, so you won’t have to remember your vast amounts of passwords. By limiting this data, adservers will not have access to first party data. Instead they will need to get innovative and utilize some of the old school tactics to ensure they target the right audience demographics.

The simpliest way to do this would be to book media plans with specific sites. For instance, Engadget is a website that caters to technology enthusiasts. This would be a perfectly logical place to book placements for new phones, computers or really any kind of gadget. SavvyMom caters to mothers and would suit promotions for diapers, baby food or even a book on rest and relaxation. Old school style, booking a fixed number of impressions for a set fee. Alternatively, should going completely manual seem too daunting. You could continue to serve your ads programatically with the help of AI. Instead of the adserver reading cookies, it would analyze the content on each page you visit and serve up ads relevant to the content rather than based on your personal browsing. No doubt advertisers, adservers and agencies are already exploring new ways to try to obtain first party data to try and continue to track you individually through IP addresses and mobile IDs but it’s clear the average consumer doesn’t want this kind of invasive following. The tech giants have initiated these fixes due to pressure from the public and governments following breaches like the Cambridge Facebook scandal.

No doubt the browsers themselves will still be able to track you, at least initially in their walled-garden. It’s a slippery slope though. If not careful, should they also be exposed to breaches, consumers may switch to alternatives that block all of this extra tracking altogether like Brave. As a creator that has been designing and developing content and ads for the web for over 15 years. I feel like these changes will create a safer and more private experience on our modern web. As technology adapts, so shall we.

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