The war on third-party cookie tracking, especially with Google and Apple, is in constant flux. Taking a step back and examining the situation as it has evolved (and continues to evolve) is the best way to keep composure as an advertiser in this tumultuous time. This POV is meant to put the current news in perspective and explain the impacts it may have on paid digital advertising (particularly Facebook and Google Ads) and website tracking.
- While Google and Apple are replacing and fully eliminating the third-party cookie, respectively, they are approaching it entirely differently. Apple eliminated it swiftly with the iOS 14 iPhone update, while Google is planning on releasing a replacement in late 2023.
- With Apple’s update, Facebook/Instagram has reported some limitations on reporting and targeting accuracy, resulting in diminished results.
- The EU enacted new cookie and data-sharing policies several years ago with GDPR that limits U.S.-based advertisers from accessing European’s data. This is causing backlash from Meta (Facebook). In the U.S., states including California have also enacted policies similar to those in Europe.
- The withdrawal of third-party cookie usage makes it imperative that companies generate their own first-party cookie data — especially for targeting and remarketing digital campaigns.
As you know, Apple users are now asked for their permission to be tracked on apps and websites with the iOS 14 release. While Apple’s web browser, Safari, has been blocking third-party cookie tracking for almost 2 years now, the company set a new bar for web-based privacy policies (Statt, theverge.com). This bar is spreading to other companies like Google.
When a user denies app/website tracking, Apple blocks the ability for a company to track the user’s data across websites that are not owned by that company. Any identifying information (i.e., location, advertising ids, emails) will only stay with the first party, according to the Apple AppTrackingTransparency Framework.
How does this affect advertising on social platforms like Facebook?
Mainly, this update provides some reporting and targeting limitations. Advertisers on Facebook will be limited in their ability to track performance of iOS 14 app install campaigns and advertisers will only be able to track 1- and/or 7-day conversion attribution windows for Apple users. As for targeting limitations, Facebook recommends broadening targeting, however, that has an adverse effect on the pinpointed audience targeting advertisers have enjoyed in the past. Broadening targeting must be done more carefully, with a heftier reliance on first-party data. Retargeting and lookalike audiences could be helpful to counteract the audience targeting limitations.
On top of the Apple commotion, Meta has also threatened to discontinue Facebook and Instagram in the European Union based on new “European data regulations that prevent Meta… from transferring, storing and processing Europeans’ data on US-based servers” (Davies, euronews.com). This would have an apparent effect on U.S. advertisers advertising in Europe. Similarly in the U.S., states including California have enacted comparable policies. The DBE team is keeping a sharp eye on this issue and will update you if any monumental steps take place.
Google is moving toward cookie replacement, but on a longer timeline. Bloomberg explains Google’s proposal well: “Google calls its proposed [cookie] replacement Federal Learning of Cohorts (FLoC), a mouthful for new computer science jujitsu that will lump web surfers together around particular interests” (Bergen). Instead of allowing sites to directly track you, Google will place users into interest groups. Vinny Goel, Product Director of Google Chrome’s Privacy Sandbox, explained that phasing out third-party cookies will happen toward the end of 2023 due to “a rigorous, multi-phased public development process” (blog.google.com). Google is not taking the steps to replacing the third-party cookie lightly. This will help advertisers adjust their media planning in the meantime.
The “Death of the Third-Party Cookie” & Your Website
In the midst of the ‘dying’ third-party cookie, marketers are able to plan for the future. If your website relies on third-party cookie data, now is the time to brainstorm alternative solutions. This freshens up our perspectives of first-party data.
What ways can companies utilize already-known information to engage with audiences?
Jason Cottrell’s Fast Company article, “A Future Without Cookies, ”says companies will likely have to “focus on logging in, signing up, or otherwise granting permission to the host to make a direct and ongoing connection to the user.” The ways this can be executed may become more clear as we draw closer to the 2023 Google deadline. Keeping up with the news and brainstorming possibilities are the best things anyone can do to prepare for the shift.
A world without third-party cookies is becoming a reality. With it, the opportunity for a new kind of customer relationship is surfacing. Daniel Newman from Forbes sees a chance for more truthful brand-consumer relationships. Consumers will have more control over their data, and that may allow them to trust companies more fully. Trust leads to loyalty and retention. And so on and so forth…
The key is keeping our minds open to possibilities as we stride through the perpetually changing world of digital advertising.
“About Targeting Expansion.” Facebook,
Bergen, Mark. “Apple and Google Are Killing the (Ad) Cookie. Here’s Why.”
Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 26 Apr. 2021,
Cottrell, Jason. “A Future without Cookies.” Fast Company, Fast Company, 9 Aug. 2021,
Davies, Pascale. “Meta Warns It May Shut down Facebook and Instagram in Europe.”
Euronews, 9 Feb. 2022, https://www.euronews.com/next/2022/02/07/meta-threatens-to-shut-down-facebook-and-instagram-in-europe-over-data-transfer-issues.
“How the Apple IOS 14 Release May Affect Your Ads and Reporting.” Facebook,
Newman, Daniel. “Apple’s Privacy Updates Push CMO’s into a Cookie-Less World.”
Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 19 May 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielnewman/2021/05/19/apples-privacy-updates-push-cmos-into-a-cookie-less-world/?sh=57162edc7c3b.
Statt, Nick. “Apple Updates Safari’s Anti-Tracking Tech with Full Third-Party Cookie
Blocking.” The Verge, The Verge, 24 Mar. 2020, https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/24/21192830/apple-safari-intelligent-tracking-privacy-full-third-party-cookie-blocking.