Three’s a Crowd: What does the end of third-party cookie-tracking spell for businesses?

Safari has blocked third party cookies by default for some time. Firefox followed suit more recently, blocking third party (tracking) cookies by default. Now Google has called time on third party cookies in Chrome, but with a rather extended two-year amnesty.

Based on Chrome’s significant market share, Google’s announcement has prompted a lot of excited commentary about the end of digital advertising as we know it.

But the reality is that the industry has been fiddling around for a while with what makes someone or something a “third party” or, more emotively a “trusted” or even worse “friendly third party”.

And browser manufacturers have imposed a wide variety of shifting approaches to look after their users’ privacy interests (and/or strengthen their own positions, depending on your perspective).

Put that together and you can end up with a slightly weird set of assertions of browser-enforced trust principles (bonus points if you can guess the browser and the year!):

“I obviously trust a third party more if I’ve clicked on them”

“If I’ve responded to a marketing campaign then I want to be measured less please”

“I’m happy to be tracked across the internet if the cookie itself is encrypted in transit”

“You tell me which third parties you think shouldn’t be trusted with my data and block them please”

The direction of travel is clear, however: regulators and browser manufacturers are racing to control the involvement of third parties in our digital lives. What does this all mean in practical terms?

First Come, First Served

Clearly organisations that have looked after their own first party data will be at a strategic advantage if access to third party data becomes increasingly curtailed. That raises the value of a good data strategy, managing consent effectively and having the ability to turn that data into action.

Knowing Yourself

It’s very easy to become an accidental third party to yourself, simply by having a customer experience that spans a sprawling set of domain names or technical platforms. Browsers fundamentally take domain names as the strongest signal of who you are dealing with, so your domain name strategy and how data is captured will become increasingly important.

Rethinking Audiences

The exchange of data to support the advertiser/publisher paradigm is unlikely to vanish, but clearly there is a desire by all to make it more anonymous. That by definition means working more with groups of audiences, and perhaps a return to more explicit audience segmentation.

Consumer Transparency

Our current plethora of cookie tracking has a theoretical benefit of transparency of what data is being sent where… if you are a qualified engineer au fait with a browser debugger. The curtailing of client-side (browser-based and visible) data collection will inevitably result in more data being exchanged server-side, and hence behind the scenes. But in turn that places far more responsibility on policy and process to determine where user’s data might end up.

Data Value vs. Trust

Google et al are ultimately making strong plays to be trusted brokers of our data – with their own privacy sandboxes to protect anonymity. That puts far more of a direct value on the data they collect, and indeed are intending to effectively manage on our behalf. But that in turn makes our trust in them as brands and custodians intrinsic to the value. That make for an interesting conundrum as the relationship between being an advertising business and a data business becomes starker.