All About Third-Party Cookies: Origin, Modifications, & the Ultimate Fate

by Napkyn

Third-party cookies have been a hot topic for the past two years, mainly because they’re being eliminated from the scene after playing a tremendous role in digital marketing for years. 

Before that, several controversies surrounding a small text file made it to the news, but nothing shook up marketers as much as the announcement of cookie deprecation did.  

Let’s discuss the journey of third-party cookies in the advertising world in detail. 

A Brief History of Third-Party Cookies

As a marketer, you’ve probably been using third-party cookies for decades to collect valuable data for targeted advertising, tracking website visitors, and enhancing the user experience. 

But did you know how it all started in the first place? 

Before the advent of browser cookies, the internet was barely practical. Each website visit from a user was considered a separate event, the details of which remained unknown. Eventually, businesses, especially e-commerce websites, realized the need for browsers to have a memory.  

And so, third-party cookies were created! The idea was to allow websites to track user activities. 

It didn’t take long for marketers to realize they could carry out successful and highly personalized advertising campaigns using cookies. Soon after, they started relying on this powerful tool to achieve accurate customer profiling to make the most of their marketing. 

How and Why Third-Party Cookies Changed Over Time

While cookies were introduced to restore vision to blind advertising campaigns and allow marketers to gauge how relevant and effective their ads are, countless questions were raised about their invasive nature. 

On one hand, advertisers were over the moon to receive on-point user behaviour profiles, while on the other, consumers weren’t comfortable with cookies tracking their moves across the web without consent. 

For these users, the option to disable third-party cookies was a sigh of relief, as they could prevent a website from tracking their activity. It was also good to know that most browsers allowed a manual and automatic clearance of cookies. People could also see which websites used them, so the ball was always in their court. 

Besides, third-party cookies weren’t necessarily a bad thing. They could never install malware or infect user devices. Companies used them to send targeted ads to users across the internet and elevate the visitor experience.      

However, things took a turn for the worse when several advertisers learned to hack cookies to follow people around the internet

Although a more nuanced solution was later devised to give control of the cookie back to the user, people had already developed misgivings about ad tracking. 

Little did marketers know that it was the beginning of the end of third-party cookies.  

Deprecation of Third-Party Cookies

In response to the rising concerns and the trend of privacy-first marketing, Google’s 2020 announcement about the phase-out of third-party cookies turned marketers’ world upside down. 

“Users are demanding greater privacy–including transparency, choice, and control over how their data is used–and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands,” Google’s post explained. 

Seven years before this, Safari and Mozilla Firefox had already stopped using third-party cookies but hearing the same news from the biggest platform hit marketers hard. 

The only relief was that Google decided to make the changes over time rather than at once to avoid disrupting the business model of ad-supported ventures and the digital marketing stratosphere as a whole.

Still, businesses were bummed that they won’t be able to track visitors online using third-party cookies by 2023. 

The Director of Acquisition at HubSpot, Matthew Howells-Barby, in particular, wasn’t impressed. “This move, while good for consumer privacy (in theory), is likely going to hurt most of the third-party ad platforms that utilize these cookies to generate revenue,” he said.  

The Association of National Advertising and the American Association of Advertising Agencies also voiced their concern about third-party cookie deprecation. “It would threaten to substantially disrupt much of the infrastructure of today’s Internet without providing any viable alternative, and it may choke off the economic oxygen from advertising that startups and emerging companies need to survive.”

While this change will ensure more privacy for users as they move from website to website, it will introduce a big challenge for marketers who rely on third-party cookies to drive successful advertising campaigns.  

What Happens Next?

It’s no secret that Chrome’s privacy efforts will significantly impact the advertising space but panicking and crying over spilled milk won’t help. The death of third-party cookies is imminent. The sooner you accept this, the better.  

While you may naturally feel confused, stressed, and overwhelmed as a marketer who relies on third-party data to create advertising campaigns, you must look forward to testing emerging alternative solutions. 

From where we see it, third-party cookie deprecation has opened the door to innovation for advertisers. From first-party cookies to Fingerprinting, Topics, and Universal Identifiers, many alternative tools await to be explored and experimented with. 

These solutions won’t deliver the exact same results as third-party cookies and may require careful strategizing, but they’ll enable you to learn about your target market without hurting their privacy.  

Strengthen Your Digital Marketing Roots with Napkyn

While Google has pushed back when Chrome will block all third-party cookies, now is the time to actively seek reliable solutions that won’t let your advertising ship sink. Meanwhile, stay updated on the news regarding the phase-out and start vetting solutions that can make the transition smooth for you. 

Most important, be open to change. This approach will help you stay ahead of the competition as businesses try to prepare themselves for a post-cookie world. 

Get in touch with our experts to discuss ways to win at cookieless advertising with modern data analytics solutions. 

More Third Party Cookie Deprecation Resources

Top 4 Misconceptions about Cookie Deprecation

FLoC’ing to the Topics? An Analyst’s take on Google’s new attempt at a ‘cookieless world’

Napkyn

Digital Analytics Consulting & Engineering Company

Napkyn Analytics is a digital analytics consulting and engineering company that provides services across Data Enablement, Data Quality, Data Analysis and Data Activation.

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