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Why Advertisers are Abandoning Third Party Cookies

November 2 2018

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Last year Apple started blocking third party cookies from Safari, using Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) to block cookies that aren’t first party cookies. But companies like Facebook are fighting back by allowing a first party cookies option for sites using their ad tracker, Facebook Pixel. Google’s also doing this with Google Analytics. What does this mean for online marketers, and web users?

You’ve probably seen a notice on a website telling you that the site is using cookies, and that by continuing through to the site you are agreeing to their use of cookies. Cookies in this context are not, I’m afraid, tasty snacks but small files which are sent by a website to your computer, to store information about your use of that site. For example, if you add a product to your “shopping cart” on a website, then leave the site and return, the site may use cookies to remember what is in your cart. Cookies include other types of information like what buttons you’ve clicked on, which pages you’ve visited, your name, address, passwords and card details.

Some cookies, known as tracking cookies, track your online browsing history. Why? To learn what adverts to show you based on the information gleaned about you from your searches and visits. Websites featuring content from an external site such as a banner ad can use cookies to build up a picture of the sites you go to, if they feature content from the same external domain. Cookies from these external domains are called “third party” cookies. “First party” cookies are owned by the domain they’re on, whereas “third party” cookies are not.

Third party tracking cookies have long been a concern for users, some of whom have felt that tracking has become too ubiquitous and invasive. That’s why some search engines like DuckDuckGo and web browsers like Safari use their non-tracking and privacy practices as a USP. But companies like Facebook, Google and others get their money through targeted advertising based on tracking, so Apple’s decision to limit tracking conflicts with their interests.

In order to allow advertisers to continue accessing your search history, Facebook has given them the option of using a first party-cookie version of Pixel, which gives the site more control over the data they collect. This gets around Safari’s tracking restrictions. This move has been controversial, considered by some as insincere. Will users feel that they’re no longer being tracked, when they in fact still are? Facebook has stressed that businesses using Facebook Business Tools (including Pixel) must disclose the way they collect and use the data from their cookies.

What this means for advertisers is that you should be aware that the first party cookie option exists for Facebook Pixel, Google Analytics and other vendors of advertising software. You should also be upfront about your use of cookies, so that your users aren’t surprised to learn that they’re being tracked by you. Normally the surprise of an unexpected cookie is a good thing, but not when people feel they’re being tracked!

Wirebox can help you to use cookies, and write a cookies policy for you so that you make the most of them as a software tool, while making sure that the data rights of your users are protected, ensuring the best outcome for all involved. Reach out to us to learn more.