THE GREAT COOKIE CRUMBLE
Say goodbye to third-party cookies—the internet’s most infamous data collection tool will soon crumble into oblivion, with Google set to ditch the tech entirely by 2022.
This (paired with a current of like-minded moves across the industry from the likes of Safari, Edge and Firefox) spells a drastic shift in the digital marketing landscape.
For years, cookies provided a scary level of personal information (while keeping users in the dark about how much privacy they enjoyed); nobody really knew who had their browsing data at any given time.
And while these innocently named devices were subject to abuse from publishers, the identity information void left by their absence will be a huge blow to the advertising world—publishers everywhere are scrambling for new (and less invasive) methods of audience analytics.
But what—if anything—can fill such a large gap?
The answer is murky and still in development, but the world’s data gurus are working on a wide array of solutions. Let’s take a look at some of the initial directions the advertising world is heading:
Google’s Privacy Sandbox
Because of Google’s stranglehold over browser usage (Chrome accounts for an unbelievable 64.47% of the world’s internet traffic) the Privacy Sandbox promises the most robust solution to the cookie crisis, with five different APIs set to provide anonymized data for framing the browsing habits of consumers.
(Editor’s ELI5: An API—Application Programming Interface—is a chunk of code that lets two programs talk to each other. Think of it like a waiter, the communication bridge between guest and kitchen staff.)
A quick breakdown of the sandbox toys:
- FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts)
By far the most controversial of the five APIs, FLoC aims to replace cookies by grouping sets of people into semi-anonymous subsections based on browsing history, so that no single person can be identified; as The Verge puts it, “your identity as an animal-loving coal roller is theoretically protected.”
Basically, when you visit a website, Chrome will note that a visitor from “Cohort XYZ” is online, but won’t connect your personal identity.
Now, Google also won’t provide data on what “Cohort XYZ” is all about; it’s up to independent data analytics teams to find out what it is that the cohort shares in common. This could be a problem for smaller agencies; those with the ability to draw more insight from the raw data will have a significant advantage.
Retargeting allows advertising networks to segment browser groups based on their actions while browsing (instead of where they browsed).
Things like leaving items in a shopping cart, requesting a quote on a lead-generation page or reading certain blog posts can all influence retargeted marketing.
- Trust Token API
This allows publishers to differentiate robots from humans.
- Aggregated Reporting API
This API will help measure the reach of any particular campaign by telling you how many distinct users saw the asset—without cross-site tracking the user.
- Conversion Measurement API
Simply put, the Conversion Measurement API will tell advertisers if a user was converted by clicking on an ad (or by purchasing an advertised product, even without clicking the ad).
The Problem: Not one of these tools will replace the amount of information fed to us by cookies–and even together, they still may not. And though the Privacy Sandbox promises innovative solutions that are bound to grow over time, there’s a feeling that the move only increases the world’s dependence on Google.
Advertising companies can create Universal IDs that follow users across multiple devices without the use of third-party cookies–like the Apple IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) that allows data sharing across all Apple devices with the ID.
The Problem: Publishers don’t have much control over what data is provided by the user, and the potential of cross-platform hacking associated with Single Sign-On solutions (programs that let you sign into multiple platforms with one set of credentials; often paired with Universal IDs) lurks ominously. One slip, and misaligned parties could have access to numerous accounts.
See, the thing about fingerprinting is that it’s not the most privacy-friendly solution to The Great Cookie Crumble.
The process aggregates data from a ton of sources (from installed fonts to even screen resolution) to create a synthetic ID that replaces a cookie. Consent isn’t really asked from the user, making it the least likely to build customer relationships.
The Problem: This doesn’t solve the privacy issue brought about by cookies; it deepens it. Don’t expect this solution to be available for long, as the industry moves away front the invasive and trust-threatening practice.
Think of this like sending a user an encrypted piece of data, a code, to an email address. This code then traces where the email address is used to log in, making email addresses veritable treasure troves of information.
The Problem: Bad actors can find it relatively easy to bust into a hashed email contact list, repurposing information that wasn’t ever agreed to be collected by another party.
What It All Means
Stay nimble in the days to come.
There won’t be a magic switch flipped, or a stunning invention that solves everyone’s woes, or even a solution so simple it had been staring us in the face this entire time. This ain’t Hollywood.
It will be of prime importance to keep an emphasis on user privacy and security, so that there is healthy growth in the advancement of smart targeting. Both sides (consumer and advertiser) can come out on top in an improved future built on open communication. Explain why you need the data, what you’re using it for, and how it will benefit the user.
And remember, despite the uncertainty, there’s an unprecedented wave of innovation sweeping the industry—we’re far from any kind of Adpocalypse.