Data Wars Part 1 – What’s going on with third-party cookies?

What's going on with third party cookies - image of cookies to symbolize web cookies.
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If you’re running a business at the moment, you have a lot to deal with. There’s a global pandemic and consumer behavior has changed rapidly in a world of lockdowns and social distancing. Many businesses have had to rapidly level up their online presence and digitally transform.

But there is something else to think about…

A battle has been raging. Whatever the outcome is, it’s going to affect every business that has an app or website. It doesn’t matter what your niche is or whether you are a B2B, B2C or B2G company. 

And it all starts with third-party cookies. If you use them for anything, this is something you’re going to have to think about.

Third party cookies - image of code to denote web cookies
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What is a third-party cookie?

Third-party cookies (which are also known as tracking cookies) are created by external “parties” other than the website that the user is visiting. These external parties may provide advertising, retargeting, analytics and user tracking services.

So if you visit a news website, that site might create first-party cookies which then sit on your computer/device. But, as most publishing sites are partly funded through ads, the ads on that news website may also create a cookie that sits on your computer/device. 

As these cookies are not created by the news website that you’re visiting, these cookies are called third-party cookies.

Many, many websites use third-party cookies for all sorts of purposes. They might, for example, use third-party cookies to attribute their online ads to measure success.

Google announced that Chrome will no longer use them and are phasing them out over a two year period. Apple Safari has had intelligent tracking prevention since 2011, but Chrome is by far the world’s most popular browser. 

This means there’s a lot for brands to consider. Especially traditional retail brands who may have only recently focused more on their online channel.

Should everyone panic?

The short answer is no. There will be a solution and an alternative to third-party cookies. Specifically on Chrome.  

We’re going to take a look at what’s going on, what Google has announced so far and what you need to be aware of so you will know what to expect.

Third party cookies - image of the Google logo
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What you need to know about Google’s big third-party cookie move

Google is not banning all cookies

First-party cookies, the cookies your site might use for example to remember login information, are fine. First-party cookies are pretty essential for CX optimization and building personalized commerce experiences. These cookies are not affected by the Google change.

This change was (kind of) expected

Data privacy has become a huge topic of conversation over the last decade. Governments and regulators all over the world have implemented legislation to protect consumers. For example GDPR in the E.U. and PDPA here in Thailand.

Google themselves announced the “privacy sandbox” initiative back in August 2019. So many digital marketers, website owners and martech providers have been anticipating this move for some time.
This does not mean that everyone is happy about the move, but it’s not a totally random thing that Google has decided to do. There have been some signs, and Google is a company that does random things from time to time.

More important than the “what” is the “why”…

Google does not do anything without a reason. Publicly they usually say things like “helping the user”, which may be partially true in this case, but there are other possible motives at play here.

If you use Google Ads, you will be able to leverage first-party Google cookies in Chrome, according to what we know about the “privacy sandbox”. But ad software and platforms that use third-party cookies are obviously facing a very tough future.

Are Google really thinking about the user here? Or are they looking at locking another section of the digital ad market in an inescapable chokehold? By forcing everyone to adopt Chrome’s own first-party cookie, this is easily done. All that money that used to go to third-party platforms will now go straight to Google. Along with yet another rich pipeline of data. 

Google is known for “tipping” the scales in its favor. They’ve been getting away with it for a while. But this would be a bold move at a time when they are receiving some a lot of attention from lawmakers

However Google is known for bold moves. They actually thought Google Glass would become a thing. So the possibilities are endless.

Image of some "mockaroons" to symbolise web cookies
Photo by Mockaroon on Unsplash

What can you do right now?

Now is a great time to really look at the types of cookies you are using and what you are using them for. This will tell you whether you will be directly affected by the changes and if you may need to plan resources to make technical changes in the future. It’s also a good idea to talk to your marketing team or agency to get their thoughts and see if plans are already in place.

But it’s important not to panic. Google has not announced precise details of what is going on yet. When they do, you should have sufficient time to appropriately allocate resources.

Apps on an iphone image
Photo by William Hook on Unsplash

My company has an app too. What’s going on there?

Apps are different, but a similar battle is raging between Apple and Facebook (along with some attribution companies). If you also have an app, we’ll cover what you need to be aware of in part 2.

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How MAQE can help

Our data team can help your business to improve or implement better first-party cookies to decrease your reliance on third-parties (and Google). This can help you to improve your customer experience and make sure you have control of your data. Get in touch via [email protected] to find out more.