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Who Ate The Cookies?

July 9, 2022

Third-party cookies are a powerful tool for online marketers. Fortunately or unfortunately, they are being phased out – mostly due to online privacy concerns. Safari and Firefox have already phased out third-party cookies and Google’s Chrome browser is set to do the same in 2023. 

Before you get too worried, Google and others already have replacement solutions to track people online and target ads to relevant groups. Online tracking isn’t going away, it's just changing. 

Third-party cookies are placed by and stored under a different domain than the one you are visiting. The domains that are storing your data—the ones you did not give your information to—have been aggregating and licensing your data. For some people this really isn’t an issue. However for others like some of the people interviewed for John Oliver’s April 11th, 2022 highlight on Data Brokers, having their private data available for public purchase could present harm. 

One would think that the soon-to-be disappearance of third-party cookies would have advertisers rushing to find alternative strategies. But here’s the weird thing – Adform and Dynata have found that 78% of marketers globally have no tested solution [to replace third-party cookies] in place for 2022. To add, only 3 in 10 (29%) companies globally currently have a first-party ID solution, this figure rises to 4 in 10 (40%) for the US. 

On the whole, while digital advertisers are fully aware that their main strategies are nearing their expiration date, they are not running to find a replacement. But should they be? Google and others are already working on replacement solutions. 

Of course we should race to utilize whatever tools Emperor Google gifts us with. But shouldn’t we also, maybe, take an opportunity to not be as reliant on our gracious overseer? 

This might be a stupid, naïve question but— were third-party cookies really that great or were they just the best option available? Before Google tells us what our next best option is, shouldn't we take the opportunity to reevaluate and make a decision for ourselves? 

Are digital marketing agencies leaving too much in the hands of their beloved advertising platforms thereby missing a huge opportunity? Are we falling victim to a less gruesome version of the bystander effect? I can’t help but to wonder if we should intervene. 

Do better ways exist to gain the attention we are seeking?

I don’t have any answers but here are some tracking and targeting options as the future gets closer:

Alternative User Tracking and Targeting Options

First-party cookies + permanent user identifiers (i.e. Email, phone number, user ID)

First Party Data (1P data) 

  • Data collected by a company directly from its customers. The company itself owns this data. 

Contextual Targeting or Semantic Targeting

  • Instead of relying on previously gathered user data, this type of targeting does not track. It instead meets the person where they are going based on the contents of a webpage and the context or semantics of a user’s search in real time. This type of targeting relies heavily on AI. 

Data Pools

  • Literally a pool of data. Whether connected to the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN) or another data capture platform, a data pool is a virtual vault containing large amounts of user data. Data pools are in the same category as Data Clean Rooms. 

Data Clean Rooms

  • A secure, protected environment where PII (Personally Identifiable Information) data is anonymized, processed and stored to be made available for measurement, or data transformations in a privacy-compliant way. The raw PII, is made available to the brand and is only viewable by the brand.

User Identity Graphs

  • A way of stitching together customer’s identities across devices and databases. An ID Graph will store all identifiers that match up with an individual customer using either permanent user identifiers (deterministic matching) or information from within a digital fingerprint (probabilistic matching). This seems to be the closest option for replacing third-party cookies given that it provides an outline of a users online behavior.

Digital Fingerprinting  

  • Similar to First-Party Cookies + permanent user identifiers but records IP, Plugins, Operating system, Browser, Screen size, Time zone instead. This might prove controversial in the future as it is very difficult to detect or block therefore leading to potential privacy concerns.

Options using a mix of the above

Google’s Privacy Sandbox

  • Google’s proposed solution to replace third-party cookies with a set of application programming interfaces (APIs). This includes FLoC, SPARROW, Turtledove, FLEDGE, Dovekey, and Topics. 
  • Advertisers will be able to use the APIs to receive data on: The prevention of spam, fraud, and DoS, Conversions, Ad targeting, Attribution, Federated logins.

Google’s Publisher Provided Identifiers (PPIDs)

  • PPIDs allow for first-party collection of data but are not data in and of themselves. They are permanent user identifiers assigned by the publisher to signed-in users on their [the publisher's] website. Already a valuable resource, Google’s PPIDs give advertisers a way to give Google a way to provide an advertiser or publisher with information that allows for  personalized ads, frequency capping and audience segmentation. 

Snigel’s AdEngine

  • Integrated with ID solutions, fingerprinting, Google's Privacy Sandbox, and contextual advertising.

Other Google-related notes of note: 

Google will still track users through data collected from its services such as Maps, Search, or YouTube. Only ad tools and unique identifiers for websites will be affected until a replacement tracking system is inevitably implemented. 

Users on mobile devices can and will still be tracked and targeted. Google will still target ads to users based on their behavior on its platforms.

Interest-based targeting through Google Topics will group individuals together based on interest. This targeting will not have the capability for frequency capping, target based on browsing behavior or conversion attribution and therefore currently does not replace cookies. 

The more content that Google itself has, the more that Google, and others like Google, can gather and store user data in the form of first-party cookies. The moral of the story being that Google will only continue to become a more valuable advertising partner. 


Will the end of cookies be the end of internet tracking? | Popular Science (

The Cookieless Future: Why Are Cookies Going Away? (

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