As we navigate through the online content, we often come across cookies.
These small text files significantly shape our browsing experience, but do we truly understand what they are and how they work?
In this guide, we will delve into the world of tracking cookies, exploring their definition, functionality, and impact on user privacy.
We will also discuss the major concerns surrounding tracking cookies, the legal regulations governing their use, and the future of web tracking.
Everything you need to know about tracking cookies, first party cookies and how they work is here.
Let’s get into it!
Understanding tracking cookies
Tracking cookies, in essence, are small text files that websites store on a user’s web browser.
So, your browser will save somewhere a tiny file about your visit to a specific website.
These files contain some data that websites use to track, store, and share information about users’ online activities.
Every time a user visits a website, the web browser sends the associated tracking cookies back to the website, allowing it to recognize and remember the user’s browsing habits.
The primary functionality of tracking cookies is to store information about the user’s browsing habits. They can track various data points, including the user’s geographic location, screen resolution, browsing history, etc. This information helps website operators understand their users better, tailor the browsing experience and deliver relevant content.
For example: if you visit a travel agency website and look for locations in Greece, than that website wants to remember that you are interested in Greece and show you the relevant information about that location and not about Argentina. This is only an example.
Furthermore, tracking cookies lets website operators personalize the user’s browsing experience.
For example, they can remember user preferences such as language selection, font size, and website theme.
Additionally, tracking cookies play a significant role in online advertising. They allow advertisers to collect user data, such as personal information and browsing history, to target ads based on the user’s interests, demographics, and online behavior.
The primary functionality of tracking cookies is to store information about the user’s browsing habits.
It is worth noting that tracking cookies can be set to expire after a specific time or remain indefinitely, depending on the website operator’s preferences.
Some cookies are session-based and deleted when users close their web browser. In contrast, others persist even after the browser closes, allowing websites to recognize returning visitors and improve their visit experience.
So, to have everything clear about tracking cookies, here are their primary characteristics:
|Store information about user’s browsing habits.
|User’s geographic location, screen resolution, browsing history, etc.
|Customize browsing experience by remembering user preferences (e.g., language, font size, theme).
|Role in advertising
|Collect user data (personal information, browsing history) to target ads based on interests & behavior.
|Set to expire after a specific time or remain indefinitely based on website operator’s preferences.
|Some are session-based and deleted when browser is closed; others persist to recognize returning visitors.
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Role of Tracking Cookies in Online Advertising
Tracking cookies are crucial in online advertising because it enables advertisers to deliver targeted ads based on user data and browsing history.
By tracking user behavior, advertisers gain insights into user interests and preferences, allowing them to create custom ad campaigns tailored to specific audiences. Let’s explore how advertisers utilize tracking cookies and their impact on user experience.
Advertisers use tracking cookies to gather user data and deliver personalized ad experiences. Here are some key ways in which cookies are used in online advertising:
- Tracking user data: Tracking cookies collect information about the user’s online activities, including browsing history, search queries, and website interactions. Advertisers use this data to gain insights into user preferences and target ads accordingly.
- For example: They setup ads so you don’t have to see products for cats when you don’t have cats and you were never interested in them.
- Custom ad campaigns: Advertisers can create custom ad campaigns tailored to specific user segments based on the data collected through tracking cookies. This allows for more relevant and engaging ads, increasing the chances of user interaction and ad conversion.
- As in a previous example: if you are looking for trips in Greece and I show you trips in Argentina , you will not like that, right?
- Social media plugins: Many websites integrate social media plugins that use tracking cookies to enhance their advertising efforts. These plugins track user interactions, such as liking or sharing content, and use that information to serve personalized ads on social media platforms.
- You know these from Facebook (Meta) right?
- Retargeting: Tracking cookies enable advertisers to retarget users who have previously interacted with their website or shown interest in their products. This allows advertisers to stay on the top of their minds and increase conversion rates by displaying ads to users who have already expressed some level of interest.
- Ad measurement and analytics: Tracking cookies helps advertisers measure the effectiveness of their ad campaigns and gain insights into user engagement. Advertisers can optimize their strategies for better results by understanding user behavior and ad performance.
- You want your campaigns to bring performance, then you need analytics and metrics about your ads.
The use of tracking cookies in online advertising has sparked both praise and criticism. While it allows for more targeted ads and personalized experiences, concerns about user privacy and data security have also emerged.
Let’s take some example, for Facebook Ads (or Meta Ads to be correct) because everybody knows them.
|Social Media plugin cookies used by Facebook
|Types of Cookies used
|Facebook Pixel: Tracks user interactions on the website, such as page views and conversions, allowing for retargeting and ad optimization.
|– Persistent cookies: Store user interactions and preferences over time for retargeting and ad optimization.
|– Third-party cookies: Enable tracking across different websites and platforms, providing comprehensive user insights.
Facebook Login Plugin: Allows users to log in to the website using their Facebook credentials, collecting basic user data for personalization.
|– Session cookies: Temporary cookies that expire when the user closes the browser, used for authentication and security.
|– Authentication cookies: Identify users and maintain their login sessions, facilitating personalized browsing experiences.
|Facebook Like Button: Tracks user interactions with products, enabling personalized recommendations and targeted ads on the Facebook platform.
|– Tracking cookies: Monitor user interactions with products and content, informing personalized recommendations and ads.
|– Cross-site tracking cookies: Track user activity across multiple websites, contributing to detailed user profiles.
|Facebook Share Plugin: Tracks user shares of blog content, facilitating personalized ad targeting based on content engagement.
|– Social sharing cookies: Record user shares of blog content, aiding in personalized ad targeting based on content engagement.
|– Analytics cookies: Gather data on user interactions with shared content, supporting insights for targeted advertising.
Major concerns about tracking cookies
While tracking cookies have become an integral part of the online ecosystem, they have also raised significant concerns regarding user privacy, data security, and online tracking.
In the following sections, we will address these concerns, exploring the potential privacy issues associated with tracking cookies and whether they pose a danger to user online safety.
Privacy issues and tracking cookies
One of the major concerns surrounding tracking cookies revolves around privacy issues. Tracking cookies can potentially collect and store personal information, such as IP addresses, browsing history, and online behaviors. Here are some key privacy concerns related to tracking cookies:
- Collection of personal data: Tracking cookies can collect, store, and share personal information, including browsing history, search queries, and location data. This has raised concerns about the extent to which user information is being tracked and the potential for misuse of personal data.
- Increased online tracking: Tracking cookies enable advertisers and website operators to monitor user activities across multiple websites, creating a comprehensive user behavior profile. This level of tracking has raised concerns about online privacy, as users may feel uneasy about their online activities being monitored without their explicit consent.
- Third-party data sharing: Third-party cookies, in particular, have raised concerns about the sharing of user data with advertising networks, social media platforms, and other third parties. The extensive tracking enabled by these cookies has sparked privacy concerns, as users may be unaware of who has access to their personal information.
- Profiling and targeted advertising: Through tracking cookies, advertisers can create detailed user profiles and target ads based on user interests, demographics, and online behaviors. While this targeted advertising can be beneficial from a marketing perspective, there are concerns about the level of user consent and control over the use of personal data.
- Security risks: While tracking cookies are not inherently malicious, there is a potential risk of malicious entities misusing them for unauthorized data tracking or exploitation. Users must stay vigilant, regularly clear their browsing history and cache, and be cautious about sharing personal information online.
Legal Regulations Surrounding Tracking Cookies
The use of tracking cookies is subject to legal regulations, aiming to protect user privacy, provide transparency, and ensure user consent. In the following sections, we will explore two prominent legal frameworks: the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union (EU) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States.
GDPR guidelines for tracking cookies
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a comprehensive data privacy law that applies to all EU member states. It sets guidelines and requirements for the collection, processing, and storage of personal data, including tracking cookies. Here’s how the GDPR impacts tracking cookies:
- ePrivacy Directive: The GDPR works in conjunction with the ePrivacy Directive, which specifically addresses privacy concerns related to electronic communications, including cookies. Together, these regulations ensure that user privacy rights are respected, and that user consent is an integral part of cookie tracking practices.
- User rights: The GDPR grants users certain rights regarding their personal data, including the right to access, rectify, and erase data collected through tracking cookies. Users also have the right to withdraw cookie consent at any time, and website operators must provide clear instructions on how to do so.
- Browser settings: As part of the GDPR requirements, web browsers are encouraged to provide built-in privacy settings that allow users to block or manage tracking cookies. This gives users greater control over their online privacy and data security.
CCPA Rules about Tracking Cookies
The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is a data privacy law enacted in California, United States. While it primarily focuses on personal data protection, it also includes provisions for cookie tracking. Here’s how CCPA rules impact tracking cookies:
- User consent: The CCPA requires website operators to provide users with clear information about tracking cookies, including the purpose of data collection and any third parties involved. Users must be given the right to opt-out of cookie tracking, usually through a “Do Not Sell My Personal Information” link, which allows users to exercise control over their personal data.
- User rights: The CCPA grants users certain rights, such as the right to know what personal information is being collected or sold, the right to request information on data collected through cookies, and the right to delete personal information stored via cookies.
- California residents: The CCPA specifically applies to residents of California, regardless of where the website operator is located. This means that website operators worldwide must comply with CCPA requirements if they have website visitors from California.
Both the GDPR and the CCPA aim to provide users with greater control over their personal data, promote transparency in data collection practices, and protect user privacy rights. Website operators must ensure compliance with these regulations to build trust with users and avoid potential legal consequences.
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First-Party vs Third-Party Cookies
When it comes to tracking cookies, it is essential to understand the distinction between first-party and third-party cookies.
First-party cookies are set by the website owner when the user is visiting for the first time. These cookies primarily serve functional purposes, such as remembering user preferences, ensuring website security, and providing a seamless browsing experience.
On the other hand, third-party cookies are set by a website other than the one the user is currently on. These cookies often come from advertising networks, social media platforms, or analytics providers. Third-party cookies are primarily used for advertising purposes, allowing advertisers to track user data across multiple websites, create custom ads, and measure ad conversion and user engagement.
First-party cookies – responsible for First-party data
These cookies primarily serve functional purposes, such as remembering user preferences, ensuring website security, and providing a seamless browsing experience.
While first-party cookies are generally considered less invasive to user privacy as they are directly controlled by the website owner, concerns have been raised regarding the use of third-party cookies. These concerns revolve around the collection of personal data, the potential misuse of user information, and the overall impact on online privacy.
Let’s explain this in more detail.
Understanding Third-Party Cookies:
- Traditionally, third-party cookies were used to track user behavior across different domains.
- For instance, when a user clicked on a tracking link from mydomain.com and was redirected to another domain (like your sales page), the cookie from mydomain.com would track the user’s journey and actions across these sites.
- This cross-domain tracking enabled marketers to attribute conversions and other actions to specific campaigns or users.
- However, this process relied heavily on the ability to track users across different websites using cookies set by domains other than the one the user was directly interacting with.
- mydomain.com: This represents the domain where the user initiates their journey, such as clicking on a tracking link.
- Sales Page: This is the destination domain where the user lands after clicking the link from mydomain.com.
- Third-party Cookies (Cross-Domain Tracking): Traditionally, third-party cookies set by mydomain.com would track the user’s actions and interactions across different domains, including the Sales Page. This tracking enables marketers to attribute conversions and other actions back to specific campaigns or users, even when they
Deprecation of Third-Party Cookies:
- With increasing privacy concerns and regulations, browsers started blocking third-party cookies. This shift fundamentally altered the tracking process. The last browser to block third party cookies is Google Chrome who has in plan to deprecate these cookies by the end of 2024.
- Now, if a user enters a tracking link from mydomain.com and moves to mysalespage.com, the third-party cookie from mydomain.com cannot be accessed due to domain mismatch. This change disrupts the traditional method of tracking users across different sites.
- mydomain.com: This represents the domain where the user initiates their journey by clicking on a tracking link.
- Sales Page: This is the destination domain where the user lands after clicking the link from mydomain.com.
- No Third-party Cookies (Domain Mismatch): Due to browsers blocking third-party cookies, the third-party cookie from mydomain.com cannot be accessed when the user navigates to mysalespage.com. This is because there is a domain mismatch between mydomain.com and mysalespage.com, disrupting the traditional method of tracking users across different sites.
Shift to First-Party Cookies:
- First-party cookies are set by the domain that the user is directly interacting with. So, if a user visits mysalespage.com, only cookies from this domain can be set and accessed.
- This approach respects user privacy more, as the tracking is confined to the domain the user has chosen to visit.
Adapting with Custom Tracking Domains:
- To adapt to these changes, marketers are now using custom tracking domains.
- For example, by setting up a subdomain like sale.mysalespage.com, marketers can ensure that the tracking cookie is set for the mysalespage.com domain.
- This method aligns with first-party cookie rules and allows for continued tracking of user behavior on the marketer’s domain.
- mysalespage.com: This represents the main domain where the user is directly interacting, such as visiting the sales page.
- sale.mysalespage.com: This is an example of a custom tracking domain, set up as a subdomain of mysalespage.com for tracking purposes.
- First-Party Cookies (Domain Match): With the shift to first-party cookies, cookies are set and accessed only within the domain the user is actively visiting. In this case, cookies are set and accessed within mysalespage.com or its subdomains, ensuring compliance with privacy standards and browser policies.
This method of utilizing first-party cookies and custom tracking domains allows marketers to continue tracking user behavior within their own domains while respecting user privacy and adhering to modern privacy standards.
This shift to first-party cookies and the use of custom tracking domains represent a significant adaptation in digital marketing, aligning with modern privacy standards and browser policies.
By focusing on first-party data, marketers can continue to gain valuable insights while respecting user privacy. This approach is essential in today’s digital landscape, where privacy and data protection are increasingly prioritized.
Google’s stand on tracking cookies
Google, being one of the largest players in the digital advertising industry, plays a significant role in shaping the use of tracking cookies.
Depreciation of Third-Party Cookies by Google
Google’s initiative to phase out third-party cookies has been meticulously planned and is now being implemented with precision.
The process commenced in the latter part of 2023 when Google introduced testing environments within Chrome.
This initiative allows websites to assess the impact on site functionality in the absence of third-party cookies. Progressing into early 2024, Google plans to initiate the transition towards the Privacy Sandbox for a small percentage of Chrome users, approximately 1%. This gradual approach is set to culminate in the third quarter of 2024, at which point all Chrome users will experience a web environment free of third-party cookies, signifying a significant shift towards enhanced user privacy.
The depreciation of third-party cookies by Google will have an impact on advertising practices, but it also opens up doors for alternative solutions that prioritize user privacy and consent
Tools for tracking marketing campaigns for maximum profitability without third party cookies
- For marketers promoting their own offers or those with access to the offer page, conversion tracking can still be achieved using custom tracking domains or Server-to-Server (S2S) postback URLs, which don’t rely on cookies. With CPV One and CPV Lab you will continue to get your data on the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns, helping you optimize your marketing campaigns for maximum profitability even after third-party cookies will be gone.
- Additionally you can use CPV One and CPV Lab for Addressing Redirects and Direct Traffic Campaigns:
- For campaigns where redirects are not feasible (like in Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, or Facebook Ads), the tracking code is directly implemented on the landing page. This setup ensures that the tracking pixel functions correctly using first-party cookies.
- Facebook’s tracking pixel operates as a first-party cookie since it uses Facebook’s domain, allowing for continued campaign optimization.
By utilizing these tools, website operators can gain insights into cookie tracking activities, ensure compliance with data privacy laws, and provide transparency to their website visitors.
Future of tracking cookies
As concerns about user privacy and data security continue to grow, the future of tracking cookies faces uncertainty. In the following sections, we will explore the potential solutions for replacing third-party cookies, the rise of data privacy laws, and how browsing habits may evolve in the coming years.
Solutions replacing third-party cookies
In response to the depreciation of third-party cookies, marketers, advertisers, and website operators are exploring alternative solutions that prioritize user privacy. Here are some potential solutions for replacing third-party cookies:
- Emphasis on first-party cookies: First-party cookies, created and stored by the website the user is browsing, are likely to play a crucial role in the future of web tracking. These cookies are considered less invasive, provide a personalized browsing experience, and comply with data privacy laws.
- Website operators may increasingly rely on first-party cookies for analytics, user experience personalization, and ad targeting. Use proven trackers as CPV One and CPV lab that use first-party cookies to track affiliate links.
- Advanced analytics techniques: Analytical methods, such as machine learning and AI, can provide valuable insights into user behavior without relying on tracking cookies.
- By analyzing user interactions, browsing patterns, and site metrics, marketers and website operators can gain actionable intelligence while respecting user privacy concerns.
- Contextual advertising: Contextual advertising, which focuses on delivering ads based on the context of the web page rather than user data, is gaining prominence as an alternative to tracking cookies.
- By analyzing website content, keywords, and user intent, advertisers can serve relevant ads without relying on personal data.
- Data privacy laws and regulations: The rise of data privacy laws, such as the GDPR, CCPA, and LGPD (Brazil’s data privacy law), emphasizes user consent, data transparency, and user rights.
- These laws have influenced the shift towards privacy-preserving ad technologies, user consent mechanisms, and increased data privacy awareness.
Alternatives to third-party cookies proposed by Google
To address the phasing out of third-party cookies, Google is actively exploring alternative solutions that balance advertising purposes with user privacy. Here are some of the alternatives proposed by Google:
- Google Tag Manager: Google’s tag management system, Google Tag Manager, provides website operators with a centralized platform for managing various tracking tags, including cookies.
- By using Google Tag Manager, website operators can have more control over their cookie tracking and user consent mechanisms.
- Privacy-preserving ad tech: Google is actively researching and developing privacy-enhancing ad technologies, such as Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). FLoC aims to provide advertisers with audience targeting capabilities without tracking individual user data.
- By grouping users based on similar browsing behavior, FLoC helps deliver relevant ads without compromising user privacy.
- Modern web browsers: Modern web browsers are blocking or working to block 3rd party cookies.
- These browsers are incorporating features that give users more control over cookie tracking, such as default blocking of third-party cookies and improved cookie consent mechanisms.
While the transition away from third-party cookies presents challenges for marketers and advertisers, it also opens up opportunities for innovation in privacy-preserving ad technologies. It will be interesting to see how advertisers adapt to these changing landscapes and find new ways to engage users while respecting their privacy preferences.
Are first-party cookies the future of web tracking?
With the deprecation of third-party cookies, first-party cookies are estimated to become a more prominent force in web tracking.
Due to their direct association with the website being visited, first-party cookies provide website operators with valuable user data, allowing them to enhance the browsing experience, personalize content, and improve ad targeting. They provide first party data!
Website operators may increasingly rely on first-party cookies to gain insights into user behavior, as these cookies provide information about user preferences, browsing history, and site interactions.
By leveraging first-party cookies, websites can create user profiles, implement personalized user experiences, and deliver relevant ads.
Additionally, first-party cookies align with data privacy laws and regulations, such as the GDPR, which mandate user consent and transparency in data collection practices.
As privacy concerns continue to shape the online landscape, first-party cookies offer website operators a privacy-respecting alternative for tracking user data.
However, it is important to note that first-party cookies also come with responsibilities. Website operators must ensure the proper handling of user data, respect user privacy preferences, and provide clear information about data collection and use.
In summary, first-party cookies are poised to play a significant role in web tracking, providing website operators with user data, personalization capabilities, and compliance with data privacy laws. As technologies evolve and data privacy concerns persist, website operators need to strike a balance between user privacy and personalized web experiences.
We can conclude that, the role of tracking cookies, which have long been the cornerstone of online user experience and advertising, is being reconsidered in light of privacy concerns.
This guide has taken you through the intricacies of tracking cookies—from their basic functionality to the sophisticated role they play in personalizing user experience and targeted advertising.
Understanding tracking cookies is more than a technical necessity; it’s about recognizing the delicate balance between personalization and privacy.
With the impending deprecation of third-party cookies, the industry is on the bridge of a significant shift. Google’s timeline for phasing out third-party cookies is set, with early trials already shaping a cookie-less reality for Chrome users by 2024.
As third-party cookies sunset, marketers are seeking new horizons. First-party cookies, data privacy regulations like GDPR and CCPA, and user-centric approaches to data are steering the future of online interactions. Tools that are using both third party and first party cookies for their tracking and attribution, such as CPV One and CPV Lab, are becoming indispensable for marketers who wish to remain agile and effective.
Why join CPV One or CPV Lab?
CPV One and CPV Lab Pro emerge as powerful allies in this transition, providing robust tracking solutions that respect user privacy while delivering valuable insights. By leveraging first-party data, these 3rd party trackers allow you to:
- Keep your campaigns running smoothly with minimal disruption amidst industry changes
- Gain precise and comprehensive analytics that inform smarter marketing decisions.
- Ensure compliance with evolving data protection laws, safeguarding your business and your audience.
The journey ahead requires a new toolkit, and CPV One and CPV Lab Pro offer the features and compliance you need to forge ahead confidently.
By one of the CPV trackers, you’ll safeguard your tracking capabilities and demonstrate a commitment to privacy that can enhance trust with your audience.
Join the Privacy-Compliant Tracking Tools
Now is the time to act. Embrace CPV One and CPV Lab Pro to future-proof your tracking methods, align with best practices in data privacy, and continue to deliver exceptional marketing campaigns. Join many marketers who are adapting to change and leading it.
Don’t let the cookie crumble on your watch.
Visit CPV Lab Pro and explore take control of your digital tracking and advertising. Secure your spot at the forefront of a privacy-first marketing era.