How is the issue of third-party cookies being addressed?

Third-party cookies have been discussed and threatened for years by browsers and government authorities worldwide. For marketers they represent the backbone of digital advertising, whereas for users seem to represent an intrusion to privacy. Third-party cookies and data sharing have long been a staple of internet marketing. For instance, sneaker adverts follow us from site to site while we look for a pair of shoes. If you want to know more about how data tracking and third party data work, check out why data tracking is more than a digital marketing trend for 2022.
A timeline of solutions to third-party cookies
At the beginning of last year lots of companies started questioning the use of third party data and considered replacing it with first party data. However, just a few months ago, at the end of 2021, a research conducted by Marketing Charts showed that more than 8 in 10 marketers still use third party cookies. That same cluster of people declared being worried about the future of advertising as third party cookies are phased out.
Here are some of the solutions implemented by big corporations to protect privacy in the past couple of years;
  • In 2017, Safari implemented ITP 2.0, which prevents third-party cookies used for cross-site tracking.
  • In 2019, Firefox introduced Enhanced Tracking Prevention, which by default prevents third-party cookies from being stored on your computer.
  • In 2019, Facebook offers a first-party cookie option for the Facebook pixel to help businesses continue understanding site activity and ad attribution across browsers.
  • In 2020 Apple announced that its iOS 14 upgrade requires app developers to explicitly ask consumers for permission to track their IDFA (unique phone identifier).
  • In 2020, to avoid cross-site tracking, Mozilla announced Total Cookie Protection.
  • In 2021, Google tested FLoC and announced its upcoming release. However, the new plan received lots of criticisms and brought, in 2022, the release of a new project named Topics API.
To dig deeper into these alternatives, you can take a look at the article written by Twilio Segment.
What is the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC)?
As I was mentioning, in 2021 Google proposed a solution to third party cookies which in the beginning seemed to effectively protect users’ privacy. In brief, FLoC is a proposed browser standard that, according to Google, will enable “interest-based advertising on the web” without revealing your identity to advertisers. Chrome browsers will construct a vast number of “cohorts,” or groupings of people who share particular characteristics and interests, using algorithms (the “Federated Learning” aspect). The browsing history of each individual is kept private and never shared with anyone, but the browser will examine the data and assign a user to one of the cohorts. When you visit a website Chrome will automatically communicate which cohort you belong to, and then it will be up to the website to figure out which interests belong to your cluster.
But what’s wrong with it? On the one hand, allowing Google to implement FLoC means granting the company a data monopoly. In fact, while companies would not have direct access to users’ personal data, Google would be the only one with complete control over the entire set of data. Third-party cookies, on the other hand, track your behavior and allow Google to advertise to you based on that behavior. Similarly, FLoC enables the company to advertise to you based on your browsing history rather than your behavior. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) , to identify you, advertisers can employ browser fingerprinting, a technology used by sites to gather precise information about your device and browser, and may also expose information about your demographics, potentially leading in discriminating targeted adverts.
What is Topics API and how it solve the privacy issue
Starting from these criticisms, Google decided to implement a new solution, supposed to be fully released by the time third party cookies will be fully banned.

Topics API is a new Privacy Sandbox proposal consisting of interest-based advertising. Based on your internet history, your browser generates a list of subjects that represent your main interests for that week. When you visit a participating site, Topics selects only three themes to share with the site and its advertising partners, one from each of the previous three weeks.

How does this solution prevents from privacy intrusion:
  1. Interests are kept for three weeks and then deleted.
  2. Topics are selected based on your own device, which means that external servers, such as Google’s, are excluded.
  3. Topics enables browsers to provide you with meaningful transparency and control over this data, allowing you to remove interests or disable the feature.
  4. Sensitive categories, such as gender or race, are carefully excluded.
  5. Unlike tracking technologies like third-party cookies, Topics is powered by the browser and allows you to monitor and choose how your data is shared. Providing websites with your interests also allows them to serve relevant advertising without using covert tracking methods like browser fingerprinting.
To conclude, a lot of changes will arise in the coming months. While until a few years ago customers were interested in personalized content, their main concern is now their own privacy. It is therefore important for marketers to stay up-to-date with new protocols to be able to execute their work in the safest way!

How are you dealing with the situation? We are curious to hear and discuss your experience, so feel free to contact us!

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