The Death Of The Cookie As We Know It?

Michael Psaila
April 28, 2022
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For a private and private internet experience, Google is showing its versatility and innovative strategies by deleting third-party cookies.

A questioning of the Web as we know it today? The opening to a more privacy-friendly Internet? Google has taken the decision to delete third-party cookies, a victory for the states complaining about this massive use of data, a threat to the Adtech industry (Advertising Technologies).

What is a cookie ?

Cookies are small text files stored on the user's terminal (phone, tablet or computer). 

It is during the first connection on a website that these cookie files are created. Your browser, whether it is Google Chrome, Safari or Mozilla, will store this file and record a lot of information. The next time you visit the website, it will collect this file, decrypt it, and use it for marketing purposes.

Initially, cookies were used for improvement or practical purposes, to connect to a site without having to enter your password or save your cart on an ecommerce website. Then other cookies arrived, called third-party cookies. These cookies are generated directly by the advertising frames on the websites you visit and sent to your browser's servers. So thanks to these ad frames, your browser will know which sites you visit, how many times, for how long and other information relevant for marketing purposes.

The big problem with cookies is that, despite the regulations, it is sometimes very difficult to decline cookies or even impossible to access certain websites without having to accept them. These cookies that collect all the information of use of the users to send them to Google, allow the Giant of the Web to practice targeted Marketing, which consists of proposing ads which are only likely to interest the one that consults on this website, because with each click on these ads, Google gains money.  

The beginning of the end for third-party cookies?

Many measures have already been taken against third-party cookies, complaints from European countries, browsers such as Safari that prohibit this type of cookie, accessibility on browsers that allow them to be blocked and even the fast development of Web3 and its decentralized privacy-friendly browsers.

Google did not decide to completely remove third-party cookies just because it wanted to respect privacy, the search engine took this decision in order to develop a new tool, the Federated Learning of Cohorts, FLoC.

The idea of this tool is to automatically classify Internet users into tens of thousands of interest groups, each containing thousands of people (certain fans of certain clothing brands, for example). These groups are large enough to make it impossible to reveal the identity of the user receiving the ad, while being as precise as possible to achieve a quality marketing targeting.

Google does not want to forget the marketing targeting via cookies but only to replace them by another system that also generates targeted ads. 

With this system, we would go from a targeting based on the user to a targeting based on the interests. 

Towards a holier system 

"This approach effectively hides individuals" in the crowd "and uses on-device processing to keep a person's web history private on the browser," explained Chetna Bindra, Product Manager at Google.

The current cookie system has effectively become a mass surveillance machine for the advertising industry. The smallest action on the Internet is extracted and exploited without anyone knowing by whom. But realistically, individual targeting will continue, via other processes, such as fingerprinting (a technique aiming at identifying a user in a unique way on a website or a mobile application by using the technical characteristics of his browser and even via unique identifiers of the operating system).

And what Google wants to put in place with its new measures will facilitate the work of fingerprinting pros. On the bright side, this decision by Google is an ethical improvement, the FLoC tool that will replace cookies on Google is much less intrusive.

And when should it be introduced?

This is where the reality of things catches up with the giant that is Google. Initially planned for the beginning of 2022, the total implementation of this project is postponed to the end of 2023.

The truth is that this new targeting formula does not suit everyone. Indeed, it is seen by some Web actors as a demonstration of force by Google. The association EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) as well as many browsers such as Brave, VIvaldi or DuckDuckGo, putting a point of honor to the respect of users' privacy, have already made it known that they would not use this technology deemed not effective enough.

The deadline end-2023 could also be pushed back, the European Commission has begun an investigation to ensure that this change is not an abuse of position by Google. Moreover, the latter has admitted that it could not test this tool in Europe because the giant doubts its compatibility with the GDRP (General Data Protection Regulation).

What will change for marketers?

Even though the deadline is for the end of 2023, the medium and long term strategies need to be rethought. According to the Product Manager at Google, "Advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of conversions per dollar spent compared to cookie-based advertising.

The specific result depends on the strength of the clustering algorithm used by FLoC and the type of audience reached," a promise that can raise curiosity. You can always call on web content creators or digital marketing agencies, because this change can improve the image of these structures as they will have to reinvent themselves. However, the e-commerce actors will be able to take advantage of it because they will be a rare source of targeted data.

The best solution for you marketers is to focus as much as possible on the digital strategy and on the content, you should not depend anymore on the advertising agencies and their constant tracking. Marketing is all about creating value around a product to make the consumer want to buy it. Forget about targeted ads and create good ads instead.

The end of the exploitation of your personal data is not a utopia, very serious actors are already making their missions, Brave in particular with its open source web browser blocking all the trackers of the internet's websites, or the famous TOR network, completely decentralized. Google is not innovating by making this choice, it's just trying to catch up with the emergence of these solutions and the Web3 giving the power of data to their creators themselves, so us, the internet users.