Browsers are rendering them obsolete, which means publishers and brands need to adopt new strategies for connecting with consumers.
Cookies, third-party cookies, in particular, drive a lot of online ads, but their usefulness will soon be greatly diminished. Mozilla Firefox and Apple Safari already ban them, and Google says it will block them on Chrome in 2023. Advertisers, marketers and publishers will need to rethink how they connect with their readers and customers.
Historically, websites have used third-party cookies because they help brands reach customers--even if they abandon a shopping cart and leave a website. Third-party cookies allow an advertiser to see how many touchpoints they have with a consumer, which is important for revenue attribution, according to Lexie Knauer, senior product marketing manager at video publishing platform provider Brightcove.
Forrester is recommending "zero-party data," and advocates for asking consumers directly about what information they want to share.
In documenting Chrome's progress for phasing out support for third-party cookies, Privacy Engineering Director Vinay Goel wrote in a recent blog that "we believe the web community needs to come together to develop a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on the web, giving people more transparency and greater control over how their data is used."
Now, more browsers and apps are adopting a first-party data strategy, which is data collected, stored and owned by a company with consent, Knauer said.
"The most common example is on a website when they ask for a name and email in exchange for content,'' she said. By contrast, "with third-party data, it's aggregated data spread across many companies in the form of a cookie stored in a browser, so as you jump between sites it tracks behavior and usage."
Knauer believes the impending death of third-party cookies is a result of the "privacy revolution" with the enactment of both the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union and the California Consumer Privacy Act. "Consumers are hyper-sensitive to data being leveraged and constantly being asked for consent,'' and both laws have made them aware of how their data is being used, Knauer said.
Doing away with third-party cookies by the data giants is not a totally selfless act, she added, "because it allows them to sell first-party and second-party data."
An example of second-party data would be buying a car and then receiving emails from Sirius Radio, for example, most likely because the car dealer sold your data as the first party to the radio company as the second party, Knauer said.
Tips for publishers who want to move to first-party data
As more organizations move to first-party data, publishers that want to stay relevant need to develop a new strategy. Besides collecting first-party data, Knauer also recommends publishers collect contextual data — such as in the car example, if a user goes to a car review site, a car manufacturer will likely want to advertise there.
"I also really challenge publishers to think about value exchange differently and having a tiered offering,'' such as a premium piece of content, like a live event, she said. Or something downloadable, such as an infographic. Consumers are more apt to share data for something of value in return, Knauer said.
- Encourage consumers to share their data by offering events such as a concert or webinar.
- Consider a hybrid business model with ad-supported content and a premium subscription for ancillary news that a user has to register for.
- If you have longer-form content, expand your reach to over-the-top streaming services on connected TVs, such as Roku or Apple TV, instead of websites only, since OTT will be a natural shift due to its lack of third-party cookies.
In the latter case, "the beauty of these environments is cookies don't exist and a lot of ad dollars are moving there,'' according to Knauer. However, "that strategy only works if you have longer-form content."
What consumers need to know before blocking cookies
Consumers need to think about what their data and privacy are worth and where they've already shared information about themselves, Knauer said. If you have social media profiles or use public email services, you've already given up information to companies like Google and Microsoft, which are selling your data, she points out.
"If you're unwilling to give up your privacy and share your data you'll have to start paying for access to content. That's not just hurting you but others as well," Knauer said. "The beauty of ads is it democratizes entertainment and education."
She cited the New York Times taking down its paywall to provide access to content about COVID-19 as an example. "That's why I urge consumers to allow for the greater good to access content freely and get more relevant ads served to them."
Her tips for consumers:
- Decide what your privacy is worth and consider what you've already shared in the past.
- Don't automatically deny consent to a website or app. Consider the use and how it will help personalize your visit to that site.
- Turning down every opt-in site will lead to more paywalls, which limits the democratization of information online. People who can't afford to buy a subscription to content behind a paywall cannot access the information, such as to a newspaper's site.
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