BLOG | Cookie Compliance | June 14, 2021

End of Third-Party Cookies: Refresher

The impending deadline for removing third-party cookies has caused chaos and confusion for marketers and website owners. Since the digital...

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The impending deadline for removing third-party cookies has caused chaos and confusion for marketers and website owners. Since the digital advertising industry has typically relied on third-party cookies to analyze their marketing campaigns and effectiveness, companies will now need to find other avenues to shift their focus to.

While it may initially seem like a huge blow, companies that realize the positives will be the most successful. The end of third-party cookies brings an opportunity to build sustainable marketing campaigns that put consumer trust and privacy at the heart. This will increase the need and accountability for companies to prove transparency to their customers when collecting and analyzing their data.

Planning and testing are key to a smooth transition. Learn how to leverage your existing data to continue effective marketing activities that provide transparency to your customers.

Cookies 101

Starting with the basics now is a perfect time to refresh your foundational knowledge of cookies, including the differences between first- and third-party cookies.

What are Cookies?

A cookie is a tool that gives organizations helpful insight and analysis into their users’ activity on their site and helps provide a better user experience. Cookies are pieces of data, typically stored in text files, that are placed on a website visitor’s computer. They store a variety of information that is specific to that device they are accessing the website from, such as the browser or mobile phone.

What Do Cookies Do?

Web pages are ‘stateless’, meaning they don’t have memory and can’t easily send data between each other. This is where cookies help, acting as the memory for the web pages. Cookies allow you to stay logged into a page while moving to different pages. This is particularly important on e-commerce sites, which allow you to browse, view, and add multiple products to your cart without having to check out each individual item.

Why Are Cookies Needed?

Cookies enhance user experiences by allowing visitors to set preferences for the display of a page, which will be remembered the next time you visit the page. Cookies can also be used to keep track of the pages you visit between different websites. Known as ‘behavioral advertising’, advertisers use this as a means of understanding your interest and tailor relevant ads to you.

Cookies have such a wide range of uses that naturally benefit the user and site owner. However, they can also benefit a third-party business or organization that you’ve never come into contact with! This is why it is so important that websites maintain transparency with their cookies usage not only to stay compliant but to earn their consumers’ trust.

Learn more about how CookiePro’s free cookie scanner can identify all the cookies and tracking technologies on your website.

Cookies Come in All Kinds of Flavors

Cookies come in a wide range of varieties. They are classified based on different criteria, including their purpose, the source, and the duration of their activity. It’s important to understand the differences so your organization can provide transparency to your customers and stay compliant.

Source-Based Cookies: What are First- and Third-Party Cookies?

First-party cookies are set by the website host, meaning they are only set or retrieved by the website while you are visiting it. They can’t normally be used to track activity or pass data from one site to another. Typically, these cookies are used to maintain login sessions and user preferences. However, with growing concerns over third-party cookie tracking, first-party cookies are going to be a good source of data. Because this information has been willingly provided by the consumer, you can ensure you’re upholding consumer trust and transparency.

Third-Party cookies, on the other hand, are placed on the user’s device by someone other than the website host, like an advertiser. You can identify a third-party cookie if the host domain for the cookie is different than that of the website you’re visiting. Advertisers usually use third-party cookies, but you will also frequently see them used to add functionality like sharing a page to a social media network.

Duration-Based Cookies: What are Session and Persistent Cookies?

Session cookies, as the name implies, are only stored temporarily in the browser’s memory and are destroyed when it is closed. If you’re required to log in to a site every time you open your browser and navigate to the site, then it utilizes a session cookie. Session cookies are typically used for essential site functions.

Persistent cookies will be saved on your computer even when you close it down. They are created with an expiration date, so when that deadline is reached, your computer will destroy the cookie. If you log in to a website, then shut down your computer, restart it, and go back to the website and are still logged in, then it’s using a persistent cookie.

Web analytics usually rely on persistent cookies to understand user behavior and report back on what people do and don’t like about a site. Analytics cookies are probably the most common form of persistent cookies in use today.

What are Purpose Based Cookies?

Strictly necessary cookies are those that are essential for using a website. Like previously mentioned, an example is cookies that enable you to hold items in a ‘cart’ while shopping online. Typically, these are first-party session cookies, so they are set by the website host and only remain in place while you are on the site. Consent is not required for these cookies, but it is good practice to explain their use to the user.

Preference or functionality cookies enable a website to remember your past preferences. This may include your preferred language, location, or login details.

Marketing cookies will use your online activity to assist advertisers in presenting more relevant ads. These are typically persistent, third-party cookies.

Statistics Cookies collect information about how you use a website, including areas you visited and links you clicked. The purpose of this information is to improve website functionality, so the information is aggregated and anonymized.

Other Types of Cookies

Other important types of cookies not mentioned are secure cookies and HTTPOnly cookies. Secure cookies are solely transmitted via HTTPS, typically found in the checkout pages of online shopping sites. This ensures that any data in the cookie will be encrypted as it passes between the website and the browser.

With an HTTPOnly cookie, the browser prevents any client script in the page, such as JavaScript, from accessing the contents of the cookie. This protects from cross-site-scripting (XXS) attacks, where a malicious script tries to send the content of a cookie to a third-party website.

To find out more about cookies, visit CookiePro’s Cookiepedia.

The main benefit of cookies is that they allow a greater degree of personalization. Cookies keep track of a user’s behavior on a site and use that information to build an even better experience next time. The more that you use a website, the more it gets to know your interests and can offer a more personal experience.

Websites also use cookies to improve the user experience for their visitors generally, ‘web analytics,’ which provides website owners with a real understanding of how people use their site, the popularity of pages, and how this changes over time. This enables them to improve the site with what users want, benefiting visitors through better content and services targeted at their needs.

Cookies have become so deeply ingrained in users’ website experience that we now come to expect the increased level of personalization. But with this comes a degree of responsibility, website owners owe it to their users to be transparent and clear about which cookies they use and what they do, but also to maintain users’ autonomy, allowing them the appropriate choices over which cookies are used.

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