Hands In The Cookie Jar: What Do Bans On 3rd Party Cookies Mean For Digital Media?

Stuart Elmes


Popular web browsers Safari and Firefox have already announced bans on 3rd party cookies, while Google Chrome plans to phase them out by 2022. Citing privacy concerns, the ban seeks to stop advertisers from monitoring an individual’s journey across different websites, a practice which allows them to gain in-depth data on an individual’s personality and preferences. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and CCPA (California Consumer Protection Act) made this change something of an inevitability, but its effects on digital marketing will be profound.

If you’re unclear on the concept of 3rd party cookies, here’s a brief explanation from Vox: “Cookies are tiny text files that websites you visit the place on your browser. If the cookie comes from a domain other than the one you’re visiting, it’s known as a “third-party cookie.” Advertisers use these to track you and your interests across the web — which websites you visit, how often you visit them, even your location — allowing them to serve you targeted ads and measure their effectiveness.”

Most people are rightly concerned about privacy on the web, with a survey from late 2019 finding that majorities felt their personal information was less secure than previously, that data collection had more risks than benefits, and that it was impossible to go through life without being tracked. People are tired of feeling that their phone is listening to them, tired of seeing eerily accurate ads pop up instantly following a search, and tired of worrying about surveillance capitalism. Tech companies are finally responding to demands for privacy, but their responses have been significantly different.

Google’s decision to implement the ban gradually is being justified as an attempt to find solutions without cutting the legs off advertisers. They also worry that an immediate and absolute ban on 3rd party cookies would push advertisers to use unscrupulous and undetectable fingerprinting methods. Meanwhile, their competitors are accusing them of using convenient pretexts to maintain their advertising revenue while dragging their feet. On the other hand, Apple’s competitors are accusing them of attempting to smother the web and push commerce into their walled-off App Store. 

With 3rd party cookies forming “the backbone of the digital advertising industry” according to Recode, these developments are of massive import to both brands and marketers. Let’s take a look at what this change will mean for the future of digital media. 

Many marketing strategies have been built primarily around cookies, and those who have relied on them heavily will be scrambling for solutions. As of now, there is no obvious replacement for 3rd party cookies in terms of data collection. While Google and Amazon will still have reams of data collected from searches, maps, AI assistants, YouTube, Gmail and Android, for smaller players it will immediately become more difficult to collect data and personalize ads.

But this could lead us to a better and more sustainable future. Most internet users have had their online behaviour tracked for years by marketing firms without their knowledge or consent. By giving them the chance to take agency over how their data is distributed and used, trust can be established and the onus will be put on marketers to show the benefits that personalisation can offer. Incentivizing consumers to share their location and search histories for deals, coupons, and other special offers could be a win-win, and lead to greater trust and brand loyalty.

First-party cookies are also a great tool for brands to get to know their most loyal and motivated customers. As The Next Web notes, “This is because only those visitors with intent to buy or who view the site as useful are likely to accept cookies, particularly if the rest of the content is restricted until the agreement is submitted.” By gating content, and granting VIP privileges to those who opt-in, you can see what actually drives serious interest in your product.

Jordan Mitchell, senior vice-president at the IAB Tech Lab feels that the ban on cookies is going to spur innovation in the sphere of data collection. He feels we will likely see the development of tools such as the German netID, which offers users a dashboard which gives them control over their privacy preferences across a host of member sites, or Single Sign-On which allows users to log into a network of member sites. Mitchell feels that the key to success will be creating a level playing field, where both sides knowingly enter a relationship which doesn’t offer advertisers and tech companies unfair advantages. Mitchell admits that “We as an industry have a lot of re-tooling to do.”

As one of the netID architects notes “Consumers are annoyed about getting ads in the wrong context. There is far more value for a business or advertiser in knowing the person you’re addressing. If you can address your target customer in a more specific way, that’s of higher value for the marketer because you become a more valuable partner, but also for the consumer, because you take away all the noise and only provide relevant messaging.”   

The biggest benefit of the ban on 3rd Party cookies is likely to be a massive growth in consumer trust. This trend will be especially beneficial for brands that learn to communicate openly and honestly and offer something in return for valuable customer data. If you are looking for strategies that will enable your brand to thrive in a world without 3rd party cookies, get in touch with Adimo today!