The End of an Era – Say Goodbye to Google’s Third-Party Cookies

Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye third-party cookies!  I’m not sure that those lyrics would have been a hit song, but it sure is a catchy theme for 2024 in the digital advertising world. 

Third-party cookies have been on the chopping block for some time, but 2024 is slated to be the year to say goodbye to Google’s third-party cookies officially. As an advertiser, it will be like saying goodbye to an old, familiar friend.

Let’s explore a little further and understand:

  • What are third-party cookies?
  • Why are third-party cookies going away?
  • Why should you care about cookies?
  • What can you do?
What Are Third-Party Cookies?

Imagine the internet as a big party where different servers and websites mingle. Now, think of third-party cookies as secret notes passed around at this virtual gathering.

So, what are they? Third-party cookies are like tiny tags left by social media sites, ad servers, or chat pop-ups on a website you’re visiting. They are a way for these outsiders to remember you and your activities.

Here’s how third-party cookies work: When you visit a website, the third-party cookies might secretly call over to other places (like an ad server or a social media site) to pick up some extra information about you. These third-party cookies then store this info under a different name, but they are still connected to your online persona.

Why does this matter? Well, these cookies are like online detectives tracking your moves across different websites. The main goal? To show you ads that match your interests and history. That’s why you might see ads for things you recently searched for or websites you visited.

It’s a bit like having a friend at the party who remembers everything you’ve been up to and tells others about it.

Third-party cookies have played a crucial role in monitoring user activity online and enabling more accurate conversion data.

If you would like more information about the end of Google’s third-party cookies from a developer standpoint, see our post, COOKIES: What They Are, Why They’re Disappearing, and the Potential Chaos Ahead.

Why Are Third-Party Cookies Going Away?

Changes in the privacy landscape, along with regulatory factors, are the main reasons that Google’s third-party cookies are being phased out. Picture this change as a response to the increasing need for protecting user information online.

Regulatory mandates are being driven mostly out of Europe with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that requires consent before using cookies on users in the European Union and European Economic Area.

In the United States, there is the California Privacy Act (CPRA), which is similar to the GDPR but is specific to California residents.

These regulations provide a firm stance on data privacy and security. In simple terms, these regulations are trying to force websites to be more careful with personal information. The use of third-party cookies is categorized as personal data. 

In addition, companies like Apple have already blocked many third-party cookies with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature. This feature uses machine learning to block cross-tracking.

Why Should You Care About Cookies?

The use of cookies has been the primary means of tracking since the early 2000s.

In 2023, Google Chrome made up 61.80% of the market share for browsers, followed by Apple Safari (24.36%), Microsoft Edge (5.13%), and Firefox (2.68%), according to BrowserStack

Third-party cookies track conversions by linking together the user’s activity on different websites. Without third-party cookies, tracking activity and conversions becomes more difficult. For marketers, conversion data is gold. The real impact of losing third-party cookies on actual numbers versus what’s reported is still up in the air. Making sure you have a strategy in place to handle this change is critical.

What Can You Do?

The good news is there are solutions to help. The downside is there is no silver bullet.  New technologies and increased modeling will allow marketers to track conversion data. But the degree of accuracy is to be determined. If your Google Ads revenue is different from actual revenue, this may be a reason.

For Google Ads, making sure Enhanced Conversions for the web is enabled is a good first step. Enhanced Conversions is a feature that can improve the accuracy of your conversion measurement. It supplements your existing conversion tags by sending hashed first-party user data from your website to Google in a privacy-safe way.

Be ready to adapt. Digital advertising is an evolving industry with evolving regulations. What is true in 2024 may change in future years. What we do know now is that third-party cookies are going away. Have a plan and strategy in place with how you are going to handle it.

You will need to say goodbye to your trusted friend, third-party cookies, in 2024. Leverage available solutions, and adapt to future strategies that will be available.

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