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What Are First-Party and Third-Party Cookies

Data is critical to the success of any business. It is essential that you know who is visiting your website, where they came from and how they found you. This data can be gathered using first-party and third-party cookies. 

HTTP cookies are small blocks of data created by web servers. They appear while a user is browsing a website and are placed on the user’s computer, tablet or device. More than one cookie can be placed on a device during a website session. Cookies were created with the purpose of improving or simplifying the user’s web experience. These cookies keep record of your preferences, interests and behaviours. For example, your preferred language, user settings, log in details, purchase history, which websites you visited, which actions you made on those websites and how long you were on each page. 

First-party cookies are essentially recordings of website sessions that you intended to land on. Whereas third-party cookies (tracking cookies / third party trackers) are loaded from domains that you did not intend to interact with. These cookies are used for online-advertising purposes and appear on websites through scripts or tags. This third-party cookie is visible on any website that loads the third-party server’s code. 

For example, you may have visited the Daniel Wellington website and viewed a specific watch, there will be a cookie on this browser. When you visit Facebook later in that day the third-party cookie is used to show you ads for that watch or similar watches (from the same brand). These cookies allow for target audience personas to be created. Demonstrating the exact purchase decisions and behaviours of individuals with a potential or present interest in your business. 

These third-party cookies can be identified by examining the header which set the cookie, to determine if the cookie was set for a domain other than the one intended. 

First-party cookiesThird-party cookies
Setting cookiesSet by the publisher’s web server or
Javascript loaded on the website. 
Set by a third-party server using a code that is loaded on the publisher’s website. 
Availability Accessible via the domain that created it. On any website that loads the third-party server’s code. 
Browser support, blocking & deletion. Supported by all browsers, can be blocked or deleted by the user but it may decrease the quality of the user experience. Supported by all browsers, many platforms are blocking these cookies by default.
ExperienceFound on the landing page which you intentionally searched for. Found on landing pages which you were diverted to. 
PurposeAssist with tracking personal information such as language and login details. Used for online advertising, by identifying a ‘type’ of customer and targeting ads at them. 

The Problem With Third-Party Cookies:

  • External sources have access to personal information and history that they would not have received directly from the individual. 
  • Track users’ internet activity to allow digital publishers to target advertising. Many web users like the concept of having advertising that directly relates to their interests, but others find this form of advertising to be intrusive and invasive. 
  • The blockage of third-party cookies has created a problem for consumer tracking and ad serving firms. These firms will no longer have access to essential data such as the interests, behaviours and purchase intentions of potential customers. 
  • Viruses may be spread through cookies, this virus will attempt to store malware with the intent of disrupting the computer operation, gather personal information and gain access to your device. 
  • Individuals who do not want to be tracked via cookies may find it difficult to find the browser setting to enable or disable cookies.

But, Do You Have To Accept These Cookies Every Time You See Them ?

The answer is dependent on your desired level of privacy. Once a cookie has identified your browsing experience a notification will appear, allowing for you to accept or decline the cookie. Ultimately, websites that use cookies are legally obligated to inform you of such usage. 

Google has had a long-standing promise to its users that it will block third-party cookies from its chrome browser. However, this initiative has been pushed back, with Google saying that they need to, “Move at a responsible pace to avoid jeopardizing the business models of many web publishers which support freely available content.” This statement has come based on comments of business owners and business employees. These individuals fear that the technology replacing third-party cookies may leave even less room for online advertising. 

With competitors such as Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla making adjustments to ban third-party cookies, Google created a new privacy proposal called the Privacy Sandbox. This Sandbox was created with the purpose of allowing websites to access user information without compromising their privacy. With the aim of discarding the use of third-party cookies entirely. This Sandbox has a set of standards and APIs for targeting, audience targeting, retargeting, measurement and attribution. This Privacy Sandbox means that there will be no more one on one targeting, ads will be shown to groups rather than individuals. 

Federated Learning of Cohorts

The next step from the Privacy Sandbox, is the implementation of FLoC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). FLoC has a similar purpose to that of the Privacy Sandbox, they intend to replace third-party cookies and improve the privacy of web users. 

Google said,” FLoC proposes a new way for businesses to reach people, with relevant content and ads by clustering large groups of people with similar interests. This approach effectively hides individuals in the crowd and uses device processing to keep the persons web history private on the browser.”

FLoC intends to ignore cookies entirely and allows the browser to decide which group you are classified in. Do you like cheese, baseball and shopping or chocolate, dogs and celebrities? FLoC will allow the browser to create a cohort ID number for each user. Every time you visit a website your cohort number is sent to the website publisher as opposed to sending cookies. The benefit of FLoC is that your general interests are represented, not your personal information, for example your name, email, ID will be excluded. The problem with this model is that companies that previously knew your personal information (name, ID, email) but not your interests and behaviours, are now receiving this information without having asked. For example, banks receive your personal information but no information on your interests, behaviours and preferences, that will change with FLoC. 

What we know for certain is that the future of first-party and third-party cookies is bound to change. We will see an adjustment towards the use of platforms and systems supporting privacy. But we do not know how this will affect the advertising industry.  

To keep updated on how the changes in first-party and third-party cookies can affect your business, keep an eye out for our regular blog posts or reach out to us to learn more. 

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