21 Comments

Summary:

Google is planning to replace third party cookies as a way for advertisers to target users. The move comes the same day as the chance of Washington passing a “Do Not Track” law increased.

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Google is the world’s biggest online advertising company so anytime it makes a policy change, the ripple effects are felt far and wide. That would be the case if the company goes forward with a reported plan to move away from so-called third-party cookies as a way to identity consumers as they move across the internet.

According to USA Today, Google plans to abandon third party cookies (mini programs that track your web browsing) in favor of an anonymous ID system that it will share with those advertisers and ad networks that abide by its guidelines.

The news comes on the same day as an industry-working group dedicated to a “Do Not Track” standard effectively collapsed. The group was supposed to develop a standard for how online marketers collect consume data, but the process has gone nowhere; last month, an influential privacy advocate from Stanford gave up on the group and, today, the Digital Advertising Alliance did the same.

As the Hill reported, the failure of this industry attempt to come up with a “Do Not Track” plan means that Congress is likely to step in and pass a plan of its own. If this is the case, Google’s reported move away from cookies may help it stay ahead of the regulatory curve.

But the plan also raises the question of how Google, in the absence of third party cookies, intends to preserve the flow of consumer data that is the lifeblood of the online ad economy.

The USA Today report is vague on what Google plans to do instead, but a good guess is that it will rely heavily on its vast collection of so-called “first party” data — information it collects directly from consumers who visit sites like Gmail or YouTube or use Google+ to log-in to another website (thanks to privacy policy changes, Google can mash all this together).

And, in any case, third party cookies have become less important in the age of mobile. Marketers and startups are instead relying on other “signals” such as location or cross-device comparisons in order to identify consumers.

The upshot is that even if Congress outlaws third party cookies, Google and other major portals (like Twitter and Facebook) will be in a stronger position than ever in the online ad market; they will control the most valuable pools of first party and mobile data, which they can make available to marketers and ad networks on the terms of their choosing.

To understand more of the realpolitik here, see “How to Talk about Banning Third Party Cookies” on Digiday. For the super-advanced class, see “We Don’t need no Stinkin’ Third Party Cookies” on AdExchanger.

  1. Valentine North Tuesday, September 17, 2013

    Good. Google failing is a good thing. Their lack of control means competition will remain healthy and it’s all good for the consumer.

    As for the privacy advocates, it’s pretty much the same thing. As long as they never reach an agreement and little or nothing is standardized, all data gathered will still be usefult from an economic point of view, but largely useless for individual tracking.

    On a side note, does anyone know a Firefox addon that changes the data tracked based on visited websites? For instance, I have 3-4 websites that I want them to know me with an identity (browser, OS etc), another few websites with another identity, and another for everything else, giving the illusion of multiple users on the same internet connection.

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    1. Huh? Did we read the same article? This is all about google having an even greater position of strength than ever because of the enormous first party data that it – and only few other companies – already and will continue to have.

      As for your second point, how do companies make data economically useful without being used for targeting? Without cookies, the extent of insight and value for people who don’t opt out of do not track would be things like page views to specific parts of a site. Remember when people routinely referred to “hits?” It’s like going back to the dark ages, and it will wipe out countless companies that are good actors and require data to create actual economic value.

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    2. How does privacy advocates failing lead to data collected being ‘largely useless for individual tracking?’ Seems like the opposite would be the more natural result of privacy advocates failing.

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      1. Privacy advocates failing increases the likelihood that 3rd party cookies are eliminated or severely limited by congress, while many in the industry were pushing for a solution that required more disclosure and consumer control options while still fundamentally allowing most 3rd party cookies.

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  2. Nice title! The whole Do Not Track committee is replaced by an App called Do Not Track Me.

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  3. “mini programs that track your web browsing” this is a horribly misleading definition of a cookie.

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    1. Amen.

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    2. Thanks for your comment and to Ben and Adam as well. I appreciate your concern with specificity but please understand that the goal here is to provide a very short, working definition that the average person can follow.

      In regard to cookies, there is a disconnect between those who work in ad tech and the average internet user. I agree “mini program” may not be the best way to define cookies, but it’s one other publications use. Hopefully, most readers will follow the discussion here and check out the links to the other articles I cite.

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      1. Just because other publications are using a faulty definition, why continue that inaccuracy? Cookies are data not programs. You do not need to have much technical background to grasp the difference between those two.

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    3. Agreed!

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  4. Cookies are not programs as they do not execute code. Stop adding to the confusion about what a cookie is!

    A cookie provides a mechanism for a data storage in the browser (just data, no code execution) that can be used by a site to maintain a logged in state, keep shopping cart information, or measure advertising performance. That data is only sent to the domain (gigaom.com) that originally stored it.

    A third party cookie is when your browser is on “gigaom.com”, and you see an ad from google where the resources link to “google.com”. If google tries to set a cookie through that interaction, that would be a third party cookie.

    That’s all we’re talking about here. Cookies are not mysterious, the just need to be understood! Without cookies, consumers will lose a mechanism to control their own privacy on the internet.

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    1. And amen again. Rusty journalism aside, It’s maddening that politicians with no intuitive knowledge of any of this seem to be feeding on and contributing to the ignorance of the public.

      Ironically, the same ignorance has allowed google to achieve, almost unfettered, a single view of virtually the entire population across multiple channels – and the ability to use it.

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    2. Utter nonsense. I work as a senior software engineer for a company (can’t name) which relies heavily on the third party “identity trolls” ad aggregators, and we, who actually work with the tracking done by your innocent and gee they’re great for companies cookies, laugh at the basically impossible task users (even sophisticated ones) have to stop being tracked. There is NO way, and your laughable claim that “consumers will lose a mechanism to control their privacy on the internet” is laughable both factually and in practice is patently false. Google, the de factor controller of internet advertising and profile collection, through parsing every email in gmail, and crosswalking to all their other “free” apps, creates an aggregate profile that needs no cookies. This is exactly why they are seeking to control and define a protocol that puts them in an even greater position to control and own how your “profile” aka your digital identity, and allow them to be even more intrusive. They will, of course use this and their campaign contributions to try and derail the much-needed, complete, “opt out” that is gaining steam on all levels of government. To think they will define “rules” for advertisers to safeguard user identity is the monopolistic wolf guarding the henhouse. If their products and services are so compelling, then surely an a priori option to totally opt out shouldn’t be something of which they should not be afraid. If they actually cared about users, and were sure educated users, with a choice, would not opt out they would be backing this legislation, they would back it. But they are doing all they can to block it, apparently thinking an informed customer is no customers. Oh, ya, don’t be evil.

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  5. How will this affect Hubspot and other inbound marketing programs that work by installing cookies?

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    1. Helga, Hubspot likely uses first party cookies (most of Hubspot’s competitors do, I haven’t looked into theirs yet).

      There are more significant implications for marketers though that split their site across multiple primary domains (like corporatename .com and coolmarketingname .com), a pretty common scenario. In this case, your own cookie is actually a third party cookie across part of your site and content.

      I wrote about the problem and solution back in May, it seems to be a particularly relevant article today: http://b2bdigital.net/2013/05/28/b2b-marketing-microsites/

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      1. Thanks, Eric! Good info.

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  6. I wrote about this back in June.

    http://www.davidnrothwell.com/crossdevice-tracking-work-enhanced-campaigns-google-google-chrome-involved-9930/

    As you rightly say, cookies are the lifeblood of the online advertising industry.

    Cancel cookies and tracking, and no-one can sell anything profitably online any more, because you don’t know what you’re earning from what you spend.

    That cannot be allowed to happen. We’d have no Amazon or any of the others.

    So it’s inevitable that Google is going to figure out a way to handle it. And they have such a massive ecosystem, they are bound to succeed.

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  7. I cannot access my Gmail and Google+ and Blogger for more than ten days. (This webpage is not available) I have a Windows 7. Does anybody know what is going on? You need their “log in” page for tech support (This webpage is not available) and they do not reply to messages on FACEBOOK.

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  8. I still cannot access my Gmail or Google+. Google does not reply to FACEBOOK messages. You heed the log in page of Gmail to get tech support. Maybe the new Google OS is not compatible with my Windows 7. When I search on YAHOO for Gmail, I get this:

    “This webpage is not available”

    “The webpage at https://mail.google.com/ might be temporarily down or it may have moved permanently to a new web address.”

    Does Gmail have a new web address?

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  9. The take over by Google has no other option than to promulgate a Google-defined, proprietary “rules” define by the defacto on line advertising monopolist: “Google, in the absence of third party cookies, intends to preserve the flow of consumer data that is the lifeblood of the online ad economy.”

    In other words, they want to be the chief fox guarding the henhouse, and lead destroyer of online privacy, Google, in order to make sure there is never a “do not track” option, plans to formulate a proprietary (yes it is “shared” by Google to its ad customers) has launched a preemptive strike against a “do not track” standard. They also hope to sidetrack with it a growing movement in Congress to legislate mandatory “do not track” legislation. The losers of the Google play, is privacy and the right to opt out of the privacy-killing, “signals.” Why? Because Google, which makes tens of billions of dollars, is not going to give up this franchise. Instead, they will use it to exercise even greater monopoly control over advertisers. The fox guarding the henhouse, indeed. As of now, there is NO way of completely opting out of cookies. I know this from personal experience and
    because I work for a company that will renamed anonymous, who uses these cookies, and which finds the so called “opt-out” schemes a joke.

    As to the poster below, “Ben” who writes:

    “Without cookies, the extent of insight and value for people who don’t opt out of do not track would be things like page views to specific parts of a site. Remember when people

    routinely referred to “hits?” It’s like going back to the dark ages, and it will wipe out countless companies that are good actors and require data to create actual economic value.”

    The section “It’s like going back to the dark ages, and it will wipe out countless companies that are good actors and require data to create actual economic value.” Oh really, the
    “countless” “good actor” companies who “create” economic value? Who might they be, Google? And SO WHAT if they are forced to rely on “hits” which you disparage as going back to the dark ages? Perhaps you mean they will be unable to harness and destroy out privacy? Well, now, given that we’d recapture the right not to be profiled, including by Google’s pals at the NSA and White House.

    Share
  10. The take over by Google has no other option than to promulgate a Google-defined, proprietary “rules” define by the defacto on line advertising monopolist: “Google, in the absence of third party cookies, intends to preserve the flow of consumer data that is the lifeblood of the online ad economy.”

    In other words, they want to be the chief fox guarding the henhouse, and lead destroyer of online privacy, Google, in order to make sure there is never a “do not track” option, plans to formulate a proprietary (yes it is “shared” by Google to its ad customers) has launched a preemptive strike against a “do not track” standard. They also hope to sidetrack with it a growing movement in Congress to legislate mandatory “do not track” legislation. The losers of the Google play, is privacy and the right to opt out of the privacy-killing, “signals.” Why? Because Google, which makes tens of billions of dollars, is not going to give up this franchise. Instead, they will use it to exercise even greater monopoly control over advertisers. The fox guarding the henhouse, indeed. As of now, there is NO way of completely opting out of cookies. I know this from personal experience and
    because I work for a company that will renamed anonymous, who uses these cookies, and which finds the so called “opt-out” schemes a joke.

    As to the poster below, “Ben” who writes:

    “Without cookies, the extent of insight and value for people who don’t opt out of do not track would be things like page views to specific parts of a site. Remember when people

    routinely referred to “hits?” It’s like going back to the dark ages, and it will wipe out countless companies that are good actors and require data to create actual economic value.”

    The section “It’s like going back to the dark ages, and it will wipe out countless companies that are good actors and require data to create actual economic value.” Oh really, the
    “countless” “good actor” companies who “create” economic value? Who might they be, Google? And SO WHAT if they are forced to rely on “hits” which you disparage as going back to the dark ages? Perhaps you mean they will be unable to harness and destroy out privacy? Well, now, given that we’d recapture the right not to be profiled, including by Google’s pals at the NSA and White House.

    Share

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