The Death of Third-Party Cookies: A Grim Dark Future for Data?

The Death of Third-Party Cookies: A Grim Dark Future for Data?

Evolving Industry

Digital marketers and e-commerce businesses are bracing for a seismic shift with Google's sunset of third-party cookies in Chrome by Q3 2024. 

This long-anticipated move, which aims to enhance user privacy, heralds significant changes for ad vendors and data analysts alike. 

We sat down with Donal Casey, one of our Senior Consultants, to unpack the ramifications of this change and what it means for the future of digital engagement.

Donal talked with us about:

  • The Cookie revolution and what Google stands to gain
  • How third-party vendors might respond to new data protocols
  • Performance concerns and the future of zero-party data

Why Google Chrome Is Saying Goodbye to Third-Party Cookies

Many online businesses are already dreading the end of the 2024 calendar year as Google is preparing for a big adjustment to their data privacy policy.

"Chrome is making a major change to its browser. They are sunsetting the use of third-party cookies," Donal explains. 

This change is limited to third-party cookies, which advertisers traditionally use to track user behavior across multiple sites. First-party cookies, which gather data within a single domain, remain unaffected. 

This delineation is important as it underscores a broader move towards more localized and, arguably, more ethical data collection practices.

While the immediate reaction might center on advertising, the implications extend beyond marketing. 

"There is some functionality that might be dated that could still rely on third-party cookies, such as single sign-on services, that could be impacted," Donal said. 

These concerns underline the need for a holistic site audit, which would ensure that essential services continue to function seamlessly after the update.

“If your site contains a shopping cart and real dollars are exchanged, I would be hesitant to not give an audit a try,” Donal suggested.

Publicly, Google is touting their decision as a win for consumers, citing data privacy and security. 

However, Donal pointed out that even if this move is well-intentioned, Google's potential competitive advantage cannot be denied. 

"It's a little bit nefarious, this action that Google is taking because it really takes power away from other solutions," he noted. “I’m all for privacy, but also, other analytic solutions would have access to less data.” 

Regardless of Google’s reasons, it’s clear that organizations that heavily rely on third-party cookies to divine customer behaviors will need to get ready for what’s ahead.


How Third-Party Vendors Can Prepare for the Shift

A recurring theme in our conversation was that businesses need to proactively adapt for a future without third-party cookies.

"Blanketly test your site using the provided tools and mechanisms by Google to audit for site functionality breakages," Donal advised. 

He also noted the necessity of adopting new technologies and methodologies, particularly emphasizing the shift towards server-side implementations.

“When you load up a website, [when you’re] browsing that site, you're considered the client. There are a bunch of scripts, [including] third parties, that load. They could be Google Analytics. They could be other affiliate vendors and other trackers," he explained. “Server-side implementation is when that site that you are browsing moves these solutions to 100 percent server-side."

This move would not only enhance data security but ensure compliance with new privacy standards.

He encouraged companies to explore new APIs and frameworks that Google is developing, such as the Privacy Sandbox, to replace the functionality of third-party cookies. Ultimately, it will be on marketers and other affected businesses to conform to a cookieless future.

“It’s really on the advertising vendors,” Donal said. “Each one of them is going to have to respond in its own unique way.”


The Future of Data Privacy

E-commerce leaders are understandably concerned over how removing third-party cookies will hinder insights into consumer behavior.

However, Donal emphasized the performance costs of third-party cookies and the benefits of reducing them.

"If you add another embed to your site, if you add another point of JS to your site, it’s a performance cost just to download that thing," he said. “And I think users… have a massive distrust with sites that do not perform lightning fast.”

Donal also believes the shift away from third-party cookies will push more companies to rely on zero-party data, which is data that customers intentionally and proactively share. 

"I think it's going to force it a little bit. I don't see any other way.” 

This move could enhance both the security and privacy of user data, aligning with growing demands for transparency and user control over personal information. 

“Now is a good time to clean house,” Donal said.

The digital landscape is always evolving, and with it, so must our strategies for engaging with customers and analyzing data. 

The phase-out of third-party cookies is not just a technical shift but a cultural one, pushing businesses towards more ethical, transparent, and user-focused practices. 

But as Donal implied, at the end of the day, even with mounting regulations around data, organizations are responsible for self-governing how they use it.

“It's going to impact your marketing departments. There are going to be a lot of tough conversations coming down the road, but ultimately… now's the time to have them.”

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