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Google has recently announced that it’s going to kill third-party cookies in Chrome by 2022. What are third-party cookies? What does this mean for the future? And how should companies adapt?

What are third-party cookies, and how do they work?

To understand third-party cookies, we have to acknowledge and understand first-party cookies first. In a MarTech Today article, Anudit Vikram, SVP Product of MediaMath, explains the differences between the two.
First-party cookies are an essential piece to a convenient web experience. Say a user orders a pair of shoes from a famous shoe brand online, then adds the item to his cart. The website drops a first-party cookie in the user’s browser so that when the user breaks off the session, the details of the order are still there when he comes back. “As long as that engagement between the user and the browser is happening with the same website, app or endpoint,” Vikram explains, “then the cookie is considered a first-party cookie.”

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are a sneakier version of the cookie. Basically, ad companies use them to track you, build your profile, and determine your interests as you visit sites across the internet. Then, they use those insights to fashion ads that target your interest specifically. So how do third-party cookies work?

Let’s say, you are subscribed to an online newsletter, like New York Times, or The Washington Post. You might have a first-party relationship with these websites, but they have third-party relations with companies that are showing ads across their pages. As you allow NYT to put first-party cookies on your browser, NYT in return allows these third-party sites to put their own cookies in your browser and collect your data. Vikram adds:

“What the privacy advocates talk about, is that I don’t have any control over the downstream relationships the Times might have with other parties—who are essentially capturing my information and using my data for their own benefit.”

Why ban third-party cookies now?

This might be news to some, but Google has actually been building towards this for quite some time now. This is due, in part, to the fact that the public has become more aware of the significance of their data. Privacy issues have become more of a common occurrence nowadays, and legislators are passing more privacy laws in response.

In August 2019, Google announced an initiative they call “Privacy Sandbox” that will help target or personalize web ads while still preserving the privacy of the user. The company will still be delivering targeted ads, but in a less creepy and sneaky way. Then, in January 2020, Google revealed their goal to block third-party cookies from Chrome browsers by 2022, and with it, their plans to replace them with the Privacy Sandbox technology.

So, what happens now?

With this new “end of third-party cookies” development, along with concerns with data privacy and consumers’ control over their data, brands will now be forced to redefine their relationship with the consumers.

The thing about third-party cookies is that they have generally been used stealthily, and some have referred to this approach as “surveillance capitalism.”

Professor Shoshana Zuboff, author of the book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, explains in an interview how surveillance capitalism works:

“[Surveillance capitalists] sell certainty to business customers who would like to know with certainty what we do. They want to know how we will behave in order to know how to best intervene in our behaviour… The best way to make your predictions desirable to customers is to ensure they come true: to tune and herd and shape and push us in the direction that creates the highest probability of their business success. [There’s no way] to dress this up as anything but behavioural modification.”

Good marketers should be the antithesis of this, forming policies and finding strategies to transparently and, with permission, gather data from people on a first-party basis.

Instead of “surveillance” to gather data, we must invite consumers to share data and get benefits – compensation and connection – in return: a partnership based on reciprocal value exchange.

The next steps towards the end of third party cookies

The notion that companies are spying on you all the time is kind of true, but if brands want to succeed in this age of consumer data awareness (not to mention increasingly strict regulations on data use by marketers) then they have to move past that and counter the surveillance capitalism ethos.

Companies are going to have to find new, permissioned ways to get data from people. This is where Reach comes in, with a new app and platform that rebuilds the broken consumer-brand relationship that have plagued businesses for a long time. Consumers engage with the brands they like and are compensated fairly for the data they share. At the same time, brands get to provide unique, customized experiences that lead to more engagement, more customers, and more revenue. With this, brands will never have to rely on more sneaky and dishonest tactics, and customers will be open to sharing more information because they are assured of the safety of their data.

The phase-out of third-party cookies is the first step in the right direction. Joining the Reach Marketplace is the next one. Learn more about it here.


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