It is difficult to imagine programmatic marketing, behavioral targeting, and affiliate marketing in the ad tech ecosystem without web browser cookies. But, as the focus towards user privacy is increasing, publishers and advertisers have no choice but to move ahead without cookies.
In the last 2-3 years, the number of privacy laws has risen considerably. Now, laws such as GDPR, CPRA, and Thailand’s PDPA are bent upon protecting internet users, which basically means that the ad tech industry needs to change their ways of processing user data.
Before moving on, here’s a quick word about cookies in general, first-party cookies, and second-party cookies.
What are Web Browser Cookies?
Cookies, or more precisely HTTP cookies, are data that is stored on a user’s browser as text files when they visit a website. The key purpose of cookies is to track the user in order to provide a more personalized web experience.
While there are different types of cookies, in this blog we are majorly going to pay attention to first-party and third-party cookies.
- First-party cookies: These cookies are created by the website that the user visits and are used for processing data such as the number of users, pageviews, and sessions. First-party cookies are comparatively safer than third-party cookies, depending on the integrity of the website that the user is visiting.
- Third-party cookies: Unlike the primary website, these cookies are created by third-party websites that the user is not directly visiting. They are used to track users and save information about them, which is then used for behavioral advertising. The matter becomes troublesome here because the user information is being passed on to a party that the user is not directly communicating with.
For more information about cookies, read: What are Cookies? Different Types of Cookies Explained
At the present time, Google doesn’t block either first-party or third-party cookies by default. But, users can delete cookies on their systems manually.
For blocking cookies in Chrome go to Settings> Advanced> Site Settings> Cookies. Here you will find the option of Block Third-Party Cookies. Setting it to On will block cookies on your browser.
By 2022, however, Google will stop supporting third-party cookies altogether, which is bound to have a significant impact on the ad tech industry, as Chrome is one of the most popular browsers across the globe. About 63.63% people were using it in 2020 all over the world.
Google’s approach to cookies has been more deliberate because it has various advertising-related products. Google’s Privacy Sandbox already exists as an alternative to third-party cookies. But it consists of first-party user data that is obtained from users as they log in to their Google account. Therefore, the chances of publishers and other parties benefiting from Privacy Sandbox seems low at the moment.
Apple has been quite strict when it comes to protecting the privacy of their users since the very start. Safari was already blocking third-party cookies, but with the launch of Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), and its evolution over time, functions of first-party cookies have also been limited since 2017.
Version 2.2 of Safari ITP set client-side cookies to expire after a period of 24-hours. But advertisers and publishers could still store user data in the browser’s localStorage. This allowed them to track users without the use of first-party cookies. However, the latest version of ITP also expires all non-cookie-related data after 7 days, given the user doesn’t visit the destination website within 7 days.
Safari’s extensive attention towards protecting user privacy doesn’t leave much room for attribution modeling, frequency capping, web analytics, and retargeting. This means that publishers cannot serve targeted ads to users leading to a poor web experience.
Although the number of Safari users (19.36% in 2020) is significantly low as compared to Chrome, it is the second-most used browser worldwide. Therefore, the blocking of cookies by Safari ITP limits targeting and results in lower CPM rates.
Yet another popular web browser, Mozilla Firefox blocks third-party cookies by default. However, it doesn’t block first-party cookies by default. The latest version of Firefox, Firefox 65, gives its users the choice among 3 settings:
- Standard: This is the default browser setting that blocks third-party cookies in the private and standard browser modes.
- Strict: This setting blocks all cookies and fingerprints on all windows, but may cause performance-related problems for some websites.
- Custom: Users can choose what kind of trackers they want to block with this setting. However, depending on the settings, some websites may not function properly.
Enhanced Tracking Prevention (ETP) 2.0 was released in August 2020 and focuses on further strengthening privacy for Firefox users. With this version of ETP, all types of trackers are deleted after 24 hours from the user’s browser, along with any cookie or non-cookie data that is created by redirect services.
Publishers and advertisers face the same issues with Firefox as with Safari, since they cannot use user data for providing a personalized experience. Only 3.65% of the global population is using Firefox, but this still means lower ad revenue for publishers.
Internet Explorer and Edge (Chromium)
Internet Explorer restricts the use of some third-party cookies by default but doesn’t block first-party cookies. Third-party cookies are also blocked for websites that are listed on its tracking-protection list.
In addition to this, the number of people using Internet Explorer is also quite low. This means that its privacy policies have a rather low effect on publishers and the ad tech industry in general.
Edge doesn’t block any first-party cookies, rather accepts them by default. Additionally, it does not restrict third-party cookies by default as well. The number of people using this browser was 3.24% in 2020.
All this put together means that publishers can easily target visitors using Edge and Internet Explorer.
Even though Opera does not restrict third-party cookies by default, users can block them manually.
For blocking third-party cookies on Opera, go to Privacy & Security> Content Settings> Cookies> Block third-party cookies.
Opera, however, accepts all first-party cookies by default. The user can also change this setting, but, as is the case with Firefox, that may result in broken websites.
In 2020, Opera was being used by 2.17% people across the world. The impact of cookie blocking by this browser on publishers therefore is not too great. This being said, Opera doesn’t take things leniently when it comes to user privacy.
Possible Solutions for Cookie Blocking by Browsers
The ad tech industry will soon be facing the demise of cookies, which is why it is imperative that publishers embrace new and alternative solutions as soon as possible. Here is a list of options that publishers have at their disposal presently:
- Contextual Targeting: Even though contextual targeting is not a new concept, the interest in it has certainly revived. Through this method, publishers can serve ads to users based on the type of content of the page that they visit.
- First-Party Data: This type of information is collected by publishers’ websites when users visit them. First-party data comes quite close to offering similar solutions as that of cookies, especially when it comes to behavioral targeting.
- Google’s Privacy Sandbox: As mentioned above, this is Google’s solution to deal with the sunsetting of cookies. Even though it is surrounded by a lot of controversy at the present time, it can provide a way for behavioral targeting that is much needed in the ad tech industry.
- Universal ID Solutions: Universal ID has a number of positive aspects, such as better user match rates, enhanced revenue potential, and improved user experience and viewability. Moreover, universal ID allows publishers to leverage user data in a way that doesn’t violate user privacy.
These are some of the major solutions that can help publishers after the purging of cookies.
Also read: How to Recover from Third-Party Cookie Blocking for more solutions
Publishers are already impacted heavily with ITP’s privacy features, and the situation will only become worse when Google stops supporting third-party cookies in 2022. While browsers like Opera and Internet Explorer do not have many ramifications, Firefox is not totally redundant when it comes to impacting the ad tech industry.
But things are not definitively bleak, as publishers have a number of reliable alternatives, which if used properly can prove to be fruitful.