When staring into a screen, it's easy to forget that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Advertisers fund the free content that you consume as you endlessly scroll down on your smartphone. The price for these digital experiences is sharing your browsing behavior and personal information with hundreds of companies. But this is no longer deemed a fair trade.
Users around the world have increasingly demanded greater privacy online. As our needs continue to evolve, there is an appetite for transparency, choice, and much more control over how our data is used. Firefox and Safari had already begun to phase out the traditional third-party cookie. Google responded last year by announcing they were paving the way to a more private web that would involve making third-party cookies obsolete in 2022.
Understanding the different types of cookies
Even online cookies come in different flavors. First-party and third-party cookies are the varieties that impact everything we do online. First-party cookies help improve your experience on a website by remembering your preferences and optimize the website for your browsing pleasure without being intrusive.
However, third-party cookies will gather essential information such as your age, location, gender, and even online behavior. This information is then sent to third parties such as advertising companies. When you are shopping for a new pair of shoes online only to find that those shoes follow you on ads appearing on every website you visit, it's because a third-party cookie is using your browsing data to send you targeted advertisements.
Third-party cookies enable advertisers and marketers to collect data that helps them build a bigger picture of every user.
Where you spend the most time online, purchase habits, and interests all make it easier to personalize advertising messages. But with the rise of ad blockers and privacy-based browsers, attitudes are changing towards cookies, and it's time to build a better and more transparent web.
Apple has already removed the use of unauthorized third-party cookies on its Safari web browser and apps. Google has chosen to create an alternative where advertisers will still have the ability to target consumers without using a user's browsing history. It's a halfway house trying to find the right balance to protect the privacy of users and a publishing industry that heavily relies on advertising.
The winners and losers
The backlash against any form of digital surveillance will make businesses rely on third-party data in their advertising strategies. Facebook announced it could reduce its ad earnings by up to 50%. The social media behemoth also reported that it would dramatically impact small businesses that rely on personalized advertising. In the UK, publishers could see a 70% drop in revenue without the use of third-party cookies to sell personalized advertising.
Brands that didn't invest in organically building a community and obtaining data through subscriptions, loyalty schemes, newsletters, etc., will also be affected by the changes.
As the gap widens between big tech's walled gardens and the open web, there is an argument that the changes could force advertisers towards the likes of Google and Facebook.
The bottom line is we all consume a wide range of unlimited content for free. News, entertainment, social networking, and even applications are entirely free. The entire digital landscape is propped up by the sharing of personal information to the highest bidder. But the recent announcement shouldn't be seen as something apocalyptic that will keep marketers awake at night. It's just time for a fresh approach and exploring something different.
Providing consumers with greater choice, transparency, and control over how their information is collected should be seen as a progressive step forward. The user experience is everything, and we need to remove intrusive ads that make it difficult to view content. Just because I looked at a pair of Adidas Gazelle trainers on a rainy Sunday afternoon doesn't mean I want them to follow me across every website for the next four weeks.
As contextual awareness becomes critical, targeting users on closed ecosystems such as Facebook and YouTube could be seen as a much easier alternative. As web browsers stop supporting third-party cookies, audience targeting will become impossible without the help of big companies and their walled gardens.
The death of third-party cookies will be seen as a huge win for privacy advocates. It will also put first-party data collection across the web in the spotlight, an area in which Facebook and Google conveniently dominate.
Whether the changes will make it easier for the usual suspects in big tech to tighten their grip on the advertising industry and the entire digital landscape is debatable. But the delivery of targeted ads in an anonymous and much less creepy way is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. For businesses, the death of third-party cookies might be waiting on the horizon in 2022, but the time to refocus on its brand, data, and customers is right now.