Third-Party Cookie Deprecation: Implications for Your Business


Cookies have played a significant role in the digital landscape for quite some time, offering various benefits. However, as online information becomes more abundant, the search giant Google is taking a decisive step by phasing out third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. 

This article covers everything you need to know about cookies, the challenges presented by third-party cookies and outlines Chrome’s planned deactivation of such cookies starting in 2024. Additionally, we will look into a future without third-party cookies.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small files of information that a web server creates and sends to a browser. Your browsers store the cookie files they receive for a specific period, at least for the length of a user’s session on a particular website. These cookies help that website recall information about your visit, which can both make it easier to visit the site again and make the site more useful to you. Consider a situation in which a user navigates through a news website, customizing his/her news feed with preferred topics. Consequently, upon the user's return to the site, their personalized news feed is instantly accessible, delivering a tailored and user-friendly experience built on their prior interactions.

Now let's look at another example. Imagine a user browsing a shopping website, adding items to their shopping cart, and then closing the window. Thanks to cookies, when the user returns to the site after a while, the items remain in the shopping cart.

Although cookies have been around for a while, many websites are now required to request permission before using specific cookies with your browser and, if you approve, to provide you with information on how those cookies will be used. This is due to current privacy concerns and international regulations, such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) amongst others.

First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are the cookies stored directly by the website you are visiting, allowing these businesses to collect data such as user behavior, language preference, and more. These cookies allow businesses to provide better customer experiences once on the website.

Third-party cookies are tracking codes placed by a website other than the one you are currently visiting, often used by advertisers to track user behavior across different sites for targeted advertising.

Why Third-Party Cookies?

Third-party cookies serve as a tool for advertisers to track user activity across the internet, enabling targeted advertising based on user preferences. This practice, which is utilized by businesses to refine marketing strategies and promote products, brings attention to considerations surrounding user privacy. From a user perspective, managing the collection and use of personal data can be intricate, with limited control over data access and distribution. While users can delete cookies from their browsers periodically, addressing data stored on third-party servers presents challenges.

The complexity associated with third-party cookies goes beyond the quantity of collected data or the sensitivity of information. Aggregated data is employed to create detailed user profiles, encompassing various data points such as search history, credit card transactions, and app usage. This nuanced profiling introduces considerations not only from a privacy standpoint but also from the perspective of businesses aiming to responsibly leverage data for marketing purposes.

Google Chrome’s phase-out strategy

In the process that is set to reshape the digital landscape, Google Chrome has begun implementing its long-anticipated plan to phase out third-party cookies. 

January 4, 2024, Google Chrome - the world’s most-used browser introduced a feature that limits third-party cookies in Chrome. This is set to affect 1% of Chrome users globally, with a full-scale implementation expected by the third quarter of 2024.

This decision is a part of a larger initiative to develop a standard to enhance privacy and security on the web, the broad initiative is called Privacy Sandbox. This initiative aims to develop technologies that protect users' privacy, while creating opportunities for companies to innovate in digital business and still be relevant to users. The approach is as follows:

  • The browser shares topics of interest for one visit rather than tracking individual activities throughout multiple websites.
  • Data stored on devices is processed on the device, not external servers.
  • Data based on user interaction with ads is kept anonymous and information sharing is limited.
  • The use of encrypted tokens to protect users by eliminating the invasive tracking associated with the use of third-party cookies.

Mozilla Firefox, Brave, and Safari had also initiated a similar shift. Chrome, which has the largest number of users, was leading by example and making it difficult for third parties to operate as before.

What happens after the phasing out, will we still need cookies? 

The answer is yes, users can still be tracked by some technologies as they browse the web. Consent legislation will then become the norm for companies tracking users. The future without third-party cookies is that users will have a voluntary opt-in to allow certain information to be stored or shared. As Chrome phases out third-party cookies, website owners need to prepare for how their sites will work once these cookies are deprecated. Possible considerations for business owners:

  • Converting third-party cookies to first-party cookies - all existing website functionality must be prepared to work without dependencies on external partners. This ensures that the site can still personalize content and maintain a high user experience.
  • Explore alternative tracking technologies which comply with data privacy laws
  • Leverage on AI and machine learning 

In summary, moving towards practices that prioritize transparency and privacy is not only a challenge but also a chance to establish more profound, trust-centric connections with the audience. If you require assistance in reshaping your digital marketing approach or measurement strategies, feel free to reach out to Yngve Bergheim ([email protected]).

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