Google Says Bye to Third-party Cookies: Is This the End of Tracking?


In 2019, Google announced a major change: Chrome, its web browser, will drop support for third-party tracking cookies. The move was a response to concerns over privacy that consumer data is being mined and then used for purposes far beyond its initial intent.

Goodbye, Tracking Cookies

Around the world, internet users are becoming warier of what different organizations know about them and fear how their data is being used against them. The Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed how data could be used to manipulate people and intervene in the democratic process, is a major wake-up call for the public and tech firms. Their digital products and services are unwittingly being used by bad actors to gain money or power.

A survey conducted by Pew Research Center revealed that 72 percent of people feel that every move they make online is being tracked by tech firms and advertisers. Nearly all of them (81 percent) also believe that the risks outweigh the benefits.

Cookies are small text files that are sent by every website that an internet user visits. By accepting cookies, the user agrees to store these text files on their web browsers to track and collect data. Even when the user has left the website, their information is still being sent to the website owner.

Back then, agreeing to track cookies seemed inconsequential. Click “yes” to it, and it will allow the user to access the website’s content uninterrupted. However, now that the threat is well-known and established, more consumers do not want to accept these cookies.

Both Safari and Firefox, two of the most popular web browsers globally, already decided to block third-party cookies. How will this change digital marketing and the internet at large?

Times When Cookies are Helpful

Cookies are not made for nefarious purposes. The tracking cookies perform functions that improve the experience of the internet user while browsing a website. It, for example, contains personal information such as unique user ID, personal preferences and interests, account log-in information, and shopping cart items. Those who accepted cookies can log in to their accounts faster and go back to what they were doing without a problem.

Advertisers use cookies to provide users relevant ads based on their interests by using data from their previous website visits or keywords they search for. This increases conversion and, therefore, makes brands very happy.

woman browsing the internet
Marketers Can Still Gather Consumer Data

Many tech websites have already declared the death of tracking cookies. After all, Google Chrome is still the most popular web browser globally, with about 4 billion visits as of March 2020. It has a 49.3 percent market share. Meanwhile, its closest competitor is Apple Safari which only has a 31.6 percent market share.

However, that does not mean that advertisers will no longer track consumers. Data is still being collected in other ways, such as web analytics and pay-per-click or (PPC) services. The online ads that people see and click can help advertisers understand consumer behavior and tailor content accordingly.

Moreover, most brands already have data on their consumers, such as contact details, purchase history, and device information. This data set can still be used to personalize marketing materials.

Replacing Tracking Cookies

Despite pronouncements, cookies are not really dying. Google is only removing third-party cookies. It will retain first-party cookies, which will continue to collect basic data about the websites that users visit. The tech company called first-party cookies “vital” to its operations.

Moreover, Google is working on a replacement model that will collect information about what users do online. It is called the Browser-Based Model, in which the browser, in this case, Chrome, will be responsible for collecting vital user information and storing it in the user’s own device.

The browser will then use this data to assign users to cohorts alongside thousands of other users with similar interests. The cohort will be updated every week to keep the ads relevant.

When the user goes online, the web browser will tell the website which cohort they belong to. The website will continue to show ads relevant to their interest and still increase conversion for brands.

The new model is currently in the testing phase in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, and the United States.

Cookies have been a part of the web for years, and their removal will shake up the entire industry that uses them. However, consumers’ trust in cookies has eroded, and tech firms now have to make significant changes to bring that trust back.

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