The Fate of Online Cookies

The pandemic has had a tremendous impact that has changed the ins and outs of our everyday lives. Every industry has had to find ways to integrate the new restrictions that COVID-19 has inevitably led us too. Zoom and Skype have never been bigger, and for so many companies it has brought worth a work-from-home plan, that very well may become the new “normal” for many industries. With this continuous evolution of the digital world how does this effect users, especially when so many questions come about pertaining to privacy.

 

We are all familiar with the pop-up box that shows up while accessing a website asking if it is allowed to use cookies. However, as it seems many don’t actually know what a cookie is, let alone the difference between a first party or third-party cookie. Well cookies are text files with small bits of data, such as your preference of language or login credentials, that are used to identify your computer as you use a computer network. Although, first- and third-party cookies are the same type of files being accessed, first-party cookies are created by the host domain, or the domain that you the user is visiting which you can think of these as “good cookies” because they help better user experience. For third-party cookies they are created by domains that are different than the one the user is visiting and are primarily used for tracking and online-advertising. Marketers in the digital advertising industry have been using these third-party cookies for years as their predominate source to receive data and track information. The third-party cookie is a tool that assists advertisers in targeting users, however, this same mechanism is what advocates of privacy have criticized due to how little control of or say on how much of the user’s behavior is being accessed.

 

In return, Apple has responded to these concerns from the advocates of privacy by releasing an update to its intelligent tracking prevention (ITP) for Safari in March 2020. The new allows Safari browser users to block all third-party cookies, that will give a choice to users to decide if they want their information to be tracked. To even further Apple’s privacy measures, in November 2020 the new Safari 14 will contain measure against CNAME Cloaking. CNAME Cloaking disguises third-party trackers as first-party trackers, thereby allowing for a way around the demarcation between first- and third-party cookies. With further privacy policies as Apple has done, the use of third-party cookies will start to slowly diminish.

 

Even Google has made efforts, by stating in January 2020 they have plans to completely phase-out third-party cookies in Chrome completely within two years. Referring to this as the “Privacy Sandbox”, which is a secure and controlled environment in order to improve user experience without sacrificing user privacy. Yet it is important to note the full details of this plan are still unknown, leading reason as to why Google gave their engineers a two-year timeline. If Google’s “Privacy Sandbox” pans out it would leave a huge impact on the existence of third-party cookies considering more than half of online browsing is through Chrome. To add on for our browsers, Firefox has had a ban on third-party cookies since 2013.

 

Whether you agree with third-party cookies or not, we can all mutually agree that the direction of Apple and Google is in efforts to only improve their user’s privacy. The reason there is much debate surrounding the discussion of third-party cookies, if used properly, third-party cookies are an effective tool to help marketers bring forth useful experiences for users. It is the same for advertisers, it helps narrow relevant ads that users are actually interested in. So, although the understanding that user privacy is important, getting rid of third-party cookies in total would make it impossible for users to receive relevant ads and their experience wouldn’t feel as “personalized”. For the majority, it doesn’t bother people to preview a short advertisement before watching a video on YouTube or seeing targeted ads on social media platforms, as long as they don’t have to pay for access to those services. If third-party cookies were completely blocked, imagine living in a world where advertising is not as effective and personalized to each user, or having the possibility of having to pay for access to your favorite sites and social media. Would you like to see that as becoming the new reality in the digital, and if not, then the question at hand is what has to give to allow privacy as well as keeping online experiences for users the same?

 

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