Will cookies be stripped from our internet diet?

Get your third-party cookies, before they’re gone.

Get your third-party cookies, before they’re gone.

Cookies have been a debate in the digital marketing world lately, fueled in part by ever-present stories of invaded privacy in the news. In particular, third-party cookies have fallen under a lot of scrutiny.

Before I get too ahead of myself, I’ll define what a cookie is. There are many variations, but roughly, a cookie is a small data file placed on your computer by a website you visit. Cookies were originally designed for convenience and efficiency—they help the websites you visit “remember” your previous activity there. That could be anything from items in a shopping cart to recording your browsing activity and the pages you like to visit.

When a website you visit places this little baked treat on your computer, that’s called a first-party cookie. These are necessary for you to surf the web, and help the websites you love—like Amazon, Gmail, Yahoo and countless others—identify you.

Now, a third-party cookie is baked in a very different kitchen. The optimal words here are “third party,” which basically means marketing companies who track people’s online behavior to better target them with advertising. It’s a readily used, really powerful technique that feeds an online marketing industry of about $120 billion.

Often, third-party cookies compile long-term records of your browsing history… and that’s where privacy concerns come in.

A new recipe may be in order, however. More and more people (some say up to 40% of web users!) are either manually blocking third-party cookies or deleting them altogether. Some web browsers—like Firefox and Safari—have worked to block third-party cookies automatically, so users don’t have to bother.

Is Google jumping into the mix, too? USA Today recently reported that Google may have plans to crack down on third-party cookies as well. Rumor has it that the internet behemoth is working on something called AdID to replace third-party cookies.

According to USA Today, AdID would reset every year to help protect users. It would also give them more control, allowing certain web visits to be kept private.

Most likely Google would develop AdID to function across multiple platforms, including smartphones, where current cookies don’t really work.

Marketers would get access to AdID, as long as they play nice. Reports say that Google will demand that marketers adhere to certain guidelines and rules—or risk the wrath of being kicked out of the kitchen.

Other online reports say that Google is just beginning to float this idea past consumer groups, government agencies and the marketing industry. But as far as anyone knows, Google is not putting AdID into place anytime soon. The goal, it seems, is to achieve more of a balance between privacy, control and e-commerce.

Google has a potential piece of this pie, too, though. According to sources, it currently controls about a third of online advertising revenue. Something like AdID could conceivably be a nice boost to its online ad biz.

To me, this whole scenario could be a huge game changer for digital marketing. Many of my colleagues and friends who follow this stuff have seen success using third-party cookies, but deep down, they also have reservations about invading people’s privacy. Others are concerned about Google’s growing influence and power, especially with the possibility of something like AdID coming on the scene.

No matter what your opinion is, more likely sooner than later, third-party cookies will be chopped from the menu for good. What replaces them, and the fallout from that, will be fascinating to watch.

– Andy Badalamenti is the creative director for CI-Group

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