The Death of the Cookie

Cookies are dead – long live the cookie. Undoubtedly in your travels across the internet you will have encountered pop-up boxes asking for your cookie preferences. And, if you’re anything like me, clicking ‘reject all’ to get rid of the damn thing will have become your default response to said pop-ups.

But what are cookies? And why are web services looking to move away from the use of them?

First-Party Cookies

Cookies – in the context of website technology – are small packages of code that get installed on your web browser permanently when you carry out a certain action. For example, Amazon uses cookies to remember your login details on their web page, negating the need for your details to be entered upon each visit to the site.

These cookies are almost always seen as useful to both user and vendor alike – easier shopping experiences generate more sales and incur less frustration on the part of the consumer.

Third-Party Cookies

Conversely, third-party cookies – as the name suggests – are produced by third parties, not the website you’re visiting. This normally comes in the form of display advertising – the adverts you might see flanking a news article or at the top of a website.

These cookies essentially ‘follow’ you around the internet. Whereas first-party cookies save your password for a specific site, it is these third-party cookies that are responsible for delivering you cat bed adverts on every web page you visit after googling the term once.

The Issue

I would guess I’m not alone in having experienced either first-hand or through a friend the creepy and invasive nature of this type of advertising.

Any product or service you show a fleeting interest in can follow you around the internet wherever you go, depending on the advertiser’s budget and strategy. In theory, this provides a ‘better’ experience for the user as they’re receiving adverts more relevant to them. In practice, however, this can leave users feeling their privacy has been compromised or worse, could make them less receptive to the brand due to its omnipresent advertising effort.

Further to this, cookies were invented in the mid-90s and are now proving archaic in the realm of today’s technology ecosystem. For example, cookies are mostly irrelevant in mobile apps and on smart TVs – technology that didn’t exist at their inception.

The Solution  

The solution is, like many things, multifaceted. Third-party advertisers will need to seek news ways

of engaging with their target market outside of cookie-generated display ads. But, more interestingly, new technology is stepping up to fill the boots of the now-outdated first-party cookie model.

Technologies like Unified ID 2.0 allow for a cookie-like experience with the added benefit of increased security and transparency. Upon logging in to a website with their email address, users will have a separate identifier attached to their profile that will be used in place of cookies – this means anonymity for the user. Furthermore, upon signing up the user will see what the company in question plans to do with their data and can set preferences accordingly.

Furthermore, this approach promises to create more relevant advertising due to the more targeted nature of its approach. Because advertisers will no longer be able to shoot the equivalent of a buckshot display-ad campaign at us every time we search the web, the adverts we do receive on our chosen websites should be more appropriate.

Final Thoughts

It is interesting to see the ways in which technology and advertising interact. In many ways, the story of advertising is the story of technology, and this is no less true today. The fate of cookies remains to be seen, but technologies like Unified ID promise to make the move away from them much easier. Who knows how we’ll be advertised to in the future?