With Google Chrome removing third-party cookies and the company introducing the Google Privacy Sandbox, I and everyone else will see a shift on both sides of the coin.
As both an internet user and a digital marketer, I’m in an interesting position. I believe in and advocate for user privacy, but I also strive to help companies reach their target audiences online on a daily basis.
What Are Third-Party Cookies?
What are third-party cookies, really?
Third-party cookies are a way for companies to track your personal information online.
Digital marketing professionals have widely implemented third-party cookies, particularly for use in honing advertisements. These cookies are placed on a website by a different platform, and data collectors can access them to track every move that led to a conversion and more.
For example, you may have accepted cookies on the MarketWatch website, but you probably didn’t realize that MarketWatch is not the only one tracking you. In fact, there are likely hundreds of other companies tracking you at any given moment aside from the website that you’re actually on.
First-party cookies, on the other hand, are those within the website. These aren’t going anywhere, and they still require overt user approval to go into effect.
What Do Third-Party Cookies Do and Why Are They An Issue?
Data privacy is an increasingly relevant topic.
Third-party cookies are much more intrusive than first-party cookies. It’s not easy for a user to see who is tracking them at any given moment during their web browsing session. There’s also no approval process, which is a major cause for concern for many.
Because data privacy is such a huge issue, Google is using the removal of third-party cookies to combat it. For example, an ad tech company might have their tracking code on literally millions of websites, and can therefore know what you’re looking at from morning until night. This is alarming considering the potential for use with the data. Advertising is one thing, but as we become increasingly reliant on our phones, it makes us wonder just what these companies could be using all that data for.
What to Know About Chrome Removing Third-Party Cookies
Here’s a fun and widely known fact: Google owns Chrome. Chrome has historically operated with cookies, which allows them to aggregate data about individuals who surf the web through their browser. This data, in turn, helps Google develop its advertising.
But that will all be behind us soon.
Google doesn’t plan on replacing cookies with another tracker or personal identifier, so this is something we all must get used to.
Instead of cookies or another personal tracker, Google will be using something called FLoC. You can pronounce this like a “flock of birds.” The acronym means “Federated Learning of Cohorts” and kind of represents a flock of individuals online.
Federated learning is an advanced machine learning tech to help connect advertisers with new and relevant audiences.
Basically, they’re grouping people together for advertising data to avoid singling out any one individual’s data.
“FLoC can provide an effective replacement signal for third-party cookies. Our tests of FLoC to reach in-market and affinity Google Audiences show that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.”
– Chetna Bindra, Google Group Product Manager, User Trust and Privacy
The Google Privacy Sandbox In a Nutshell
Google has said that they’re extremely committed to user privacy, and the Google Privacy Sandbox is indicative of that. It’s also indicative of their commitment to marketing, which is a relief for those who are passionate about digital marketing like myself.
The Privacy Sandbox is a way for Chrome to put boundaries (like the walls of a sandbox) on what companies can and cannot do with data. Instead of a single proposal to the problem of data privacy, it’s a collective environment teeming with innovation.
Currently, the Privacy Sandbox is reviewing proposals for advertising ideas on the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Github.
How the Privacy Sandbox Is Building Innovations
The Privacy Sandbox is a massive landscape of ideation. Through it, advertisers can excavate ad targeting and ad delivery ideas. Additionally, they can redefine performance reporting in the new era. Of course, user privacy remains at the forefront of the conversation.
How to Transition to a World with No Third-Party Cookies
There are a lot of migrations ahead of us as we gear up for a Chrome browsing experience without personal trackers.
First and foremost, it’s a good idea to switch gears now by investing in a first-party data strategy. This means you’ll want to start collecting information directly from the customer themselves. In between first- and third-party data is second-party data, which exists privately between two people (like a client and agent, for example). Obviously, second-party data isn’t used for advertising for this reason, so first-party data is the way to go.
The Google Tag Manager helps acquire first-party data.
Think with Google suggests a way to do this: Building relationships with website users.
This is going to make value even more important, because you’ll need to offer something in return for the data. I can see content marketing across the board growing in relevance as we speak! Other tools like a convenience factor, loyalty programs, and deals or coupons will also be relevant.
You’ll also want to develop additional metrics besides conversion tracking to get a thorough understanding of your audience—and how they interact with your ads.
Increasing your reliance on cloud technology will be the cutting edge solution in a world with no third-party cookies. Honed software will help you make sense of the data you have and predict outcomes for future campaigns. Additionally, you can use it to keep the data you do have safe. One example of this is the Google Analytics for Firebase software development kit (SDK).
While you’re at it, shy away from old faves that won’t be status quo for much longer:
- Audience lists and personalized ads
- Ad frequency management tactics
- Performance measuring tools like conversion tracking
Ultimately, doing away with third-party cookies won’t entirely secure user privacy, because browser fingerprinting (where ad tech moguls store data on their servers instead of the browser itself) is already in practice.
However, there’s evidence to suggest that behavioral targeting is not as lucrative as it seems—which is why first-party targeting, content strategies and inter-funnel tactics take the lead.
FAQ About Google Chrome Eliminating Third-Party Cookies
1. Will the elimination of third-party cookies make advertisers suffer?
Not really. It just requires a pivot and a shift in mindset. You’ll still have access to third-party tracking codes, just not cookies. Plus, it’s a chance for you to prioritize first-party data, which is a much more lucrative strategy for data allocation in terms of your ROI.
2. When is Chrome removing third-party cookies?
Google first announced the future removal of third-party cookies on Chrome in 2020. They shared that the change will go into effect prior to 2022, so we can expect the quiet shift sometime this year. The May 2020 algorithm update may or may not align with this.
3. Do other browsers use third-party cookies?
The list of browsers saying goodbye to third-party cookies is actually growing, especially since Google’s initial announcement. This is not just a phase, but a real redirection for the web to come. Marketing professionals should heed the calls if they want to be successful. (If digital marketing is about anything, it’s keeping up with the times.)
Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox actually began phasing out third-party cookies in 2013, so Google is actually not the leader in this category. However, Chrome’s two-thirds market share undoubtedly makes this more impactful.
The elimination of third-party cookies from Chrome, as well as the introduction of Google Privacy Sandbox and FLoC, isn’t cause for immediate action.
But it will change the game for digital marketing across the board, and it’s best to make the shifts now. As our dependence on the web grows, so too do concerns over user privacy. When all is said and done, staying up to date on the latest best practices can make all the difference for your business.