Digital World: Life After Third-Party Cookie Ban

What Happened?

In August 2019, Google struck everyone with the news about the upcoming ban on the use of 3d-party cookies in Chrome browser. The company explained that the user data confidentiality is a priority in this case.The thing is, cookies are used to such an extent “beyond their original meaning” that they no longer meet user expectations regarding data privacy. 

At E-Contenta, we are actively working with advertising, targeting and retargeting. Therefore, as one of those who will be directly affected by these changes, we decided to figure out how to live and work from now on.

What Are Cookies?

For internet marketing specialists, ‘cookies’ stand for the files containing information about the user. They help you find out a person’s address, phone number, mail and frequently visited pages. They allow users to save this information and quickly enter it wherever required. As for the advertisers, cookies give them an opportunity to find out about the interests of a particular person, determine whether he is a part of the brand’s target audience and, if so, offer him goods or services. In a way, these small files act like Tinder for users and advertisers, matching the offers of the latter with the interests of the former.

There are two types of cookies: 1st-party and 3d-party. The former include those that were installed by the owner of the site visited by the user. The latter were installed on this site by third-party companies interested in the audience of the portal. 1st-party cookies will stay, Google has nothing against using them. But the 3d-party cookies are subject to restrictions.

Is Chrome the Only Browser to Block Access to Cookies?

Actually, no. For example, Brave supplies advertisers with neither cookies nor an ability to launch targeted ads. But they really do care about their users’ privacy: not only cookies for third-party services are disabled, but the browser itself, unlike Chrome, does not collect any data. Safari also blocks all 3d-party cookies, following the recent privacy policy update. Firefox and Opera keep up with the competition: the user can enable cookies himself, if he wants to. But if he doesn’t, advertisers cannot track anything. However, since Chrome is a leader with the market share over 60%, the fact of it blocking data access shook the world.
Shares of browsers in the global market, May 2021 Source: Statcounter

Google will Support Targeting Options on its Own terms

Along with this, Google announced the development of a new cookie alternative – the so-called Privacy Sandbox. In this FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts), Google will collect information about the user, and correlate him with similar users, based on the visit. Instead of a unique ID created by cookies, the user will now be assigned an ID of the cohort to which he belongs, based on his interests, characteristics and other parameters.

Data from the Sandbox will be available for free, since it’s an API built into the browser. JavaScript activates this API, requests the cohort from the browser, and sends the relevant data to ad systems.

How 3d-party cookies worked before the ban

How 3d-party cookies work now

How the Ban will Affect the Market

Advertisers will lose their current tools for tracking, profiling, optimization, building end-to-end chains and measuring the effectiveness of campaigns. Also, the uniqueness of impressions will be lost: if before advertisers could pose a specific request: "Show our ad less than 5 times to a 60-year-old granny from St. Petersburg who is interested in cars and cooking," now the best they can do is set the condition "Show this ad less than 5 times to a segment interested in cars and food."
Another threat is a low-quality traffic from publishers who will be able to play dirty since there’s no unique identifier. But they will also suffer: for example, it’ll be difficult to use external recommenders.

To ensure at least some traffic quality and freq cap (frequency capping = limiting the frequency of repeated impressions), SSP platforms will add different identifiers on the web sites. And it will be absolutely impossible to participate in CPA operations.

Google will Still Know Everything About Us

Targeting by cohorts and not by users really protects us from personal identification. But it’s not that simple. Limiting the availability of information, Google itself will continue to collect data and know as much about each of us as before (e.g., using e-mail of anyone connected to YouTube or other services). Also, the quality of the data that the company allows others to collect will be disputable: only Google will know how accurate it is. Moreover, this data will contain noise (information about random irrelevant users).

Like any other restriction, banning 3d-party cookies won’t stop cheaters, who will still have their ways of getting personal data, and Google is unlikely to prevent it.

How to Work Further?

Internet publishers or SSP platforms can use mechanisms similar to ID5. ID5 creates a network of sites that agree upon how users should be named. In the future, despite the absence of cookies and cookie-matching, websites that share information will be able to identify the user. The key is a common code generated together with the partners. This way, advertisers will be able to exchange information about users and perform retargeting within the network. But it will only be available to those who join the community.

DSP networks, such as E-Contenta, will be able to use 1st-party cookies: sites will be able to transfer it to partners via GET parameters. It is worth investing in probabilistic identification mechanisms and boosting predictive algorithms for semantic analysis of the page presenting the advertisement to the user.

DMP is going to suffer the most. They need to encourage partners to use ID5, stable IDs, probabilistic identification and de-anonymize entire cohorts. Otherwise, DMPs will have to fly blind and lose the ability to upload data to partners.

And finally, brands. What they should do is create loyalty programs using stable IDs.
Lack of cookies will really affect the digital world. It is likely that the community will soon strike back with its own fines and bans. In any case, the big players don’t have an exclusive right to innovate, so there’s a good chance that tech players will find a way to achieve results even in light of the situation.