HTTP cookies, also referred to as simply cookies, are small blocks of data created by a web server to track web visitors. For years, businesses have been using them to collect data that allows them to improve the user experience and send targeted ads to the right audiences. They can also be used to learn more about visitors’ online behaviours on other websites. Although brands have come to rely on cookies, things are about to change – ever since Google announced its decision to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome browsers in 2022. In this article, we will explore the death of the cookie, breaking down Google’s decision to phase them out and predicting what the future holds for businesses that rely on cookies for data.
Google to Phase Out the Third-Party Cookie
Google’s intention to phase out third-party cookies was originally announced back in February 2020. However, it may have only entered your radar earlier this summer, when the company made a further announcement, stating that they were building “alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”
The reason for the pivot was privacy, Google claimed. They stated that their decision came about in response to increased needs for privacy and to better protect users. It’s worth noting that other web browsers, including Firefox and Safari, had already phased out the third-party cookie. That said, Google Chrome is the biggest browser to be making the move. (To put it into perspective, by the end of 2019, Google Chrome compromised more than 56% of the web browser market while accounting for more than half of all global web traffic).
Despite being late to the game, Google still said that its phase-out of cookies would be gradual, done over the course of two years (mainly to ensure that the change doesn’t have a significant impact on online advertising).
Once third-party cookies have officially been phased out on Google Chrome, none of the three major web browsers will support this type of data tracking. This is what has led so many tech experts to refer to Google’s phase-out as the “death of the cookie.”
What to Know About Google’s Third-Party Cookie Phase-Out
Before you start to panic about what the phase-out of third-party cookies by Google means for your business, let’s consider what we know about the decision. Keep reading for some key information about the upcoming phase-out.
Not all cookies are banned
The good news is that Google isn’t banning all cookies, just third-party cookies. So if you were growing concerned that all your cookie-backed marketing strategies would soon be obsolete, you’re mistaken. Currently, Google has only announced the phase-out of the third-party cookie, which means first-party cookies that track basic data about visitors to your own website are fair game. To clarify further, first-party cookies are those that are generated and stored when a user visits your business’s website. This type of cookie is most commonly used to improve user experience, as it is responsible for remembering basic preferences and passwords. First-party cookies allow businesses to learn more about how a certain visitor interacted with their website. However, they do not allow the business to then see how the visitor went on to interact with other websites not registered to your domain (this is/was the role of third-party cookies). Meanwhile, third-party cookies are data blocks that are placed on a user’s computer after being generated on a website other than your own. When a visitor goes to your site and others, the cookie tracks all of this information and sends it to a third party, such as an advertiser, who then uses it to better target their ads. The information someone can learn from cookies includes what websites a user interacts with, what purchases they’ve made, or what interest they’ve shown in other websites. Therefore, if you are an advertiser, third-party cookie data can be extremely valuable. However, it is also viewed as intrusive and an invasion of privacy by some. For this reason, where first-party cookies are automatically accepted when a user visits a website, visitors must be notified about third-party cookies and agree to accept them owing to the amount of data they collect and retain. Overall, although Google is banning third-party cookies, first-party cookies still exist and businesses can continue to leverage this data.
Google’s phase-out isn’t a surprise
While many businesses may not agree with Google’s decision, it isn’t exactly a surprise. Anyone who has been keeping up-to-date with tech news knows that governments around the world have been cracking down on data and privacy issues. For example, in October 2019, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) ruled that users in the EU must consent to all analytics cookies whenever they visit a website. This ruling resulted in a major drop in numbers for businesses with international websites. Further, given that Firefox and Safari phased out third-party cookies back in 2013, it was only a matter of time before Google Chrome followed suit.
Google is working on other ways to track user behaviour
One final thing to know about the phase-out of the third-party cookie is that Google is working on other ways to track user behaviour, which means that the death of the cookie is not the end of businesses being able to leverage online data. The company has already seen success with FloC, a new technology that tracks groups of people rather than individuals.
The Future of the Cookie
Anytime there is a major shift in privacy and data, especially when it affects advertising and businesses, it causes panic. For example, Google’s third-party cookie announcement likely sent shock waves through many businesses whose advertising campaigns rely on third-party cookie data. But the truth is, there is no need for full-blown panic. While Google’s privacy efforts will certainly impact some aspects of marketing and advertising, other aspects will remain the same. Even for companies that previously relied heavily on third-party cookies, there are many alternatives emerging. So rather than entering a state of despair, we recommend keeping up-to-date on the latest data privacy moves, researching alternative software solutions, and implementing strategies that allow you to leverage first-party data as opposed to third-party data.