Advice for Surviving the 'Cookie Apocalypse'

May 16, 2019


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Article ImageWith the one year anniversary of GDPR fast approaching, Google and Facebook have taken the opportunity to stun marketers with big announcements concerning privacy. Google is cracking down on third-party cookies and Facebook is letting users clear their histories, sending marketers scurrying to figure out how to go forward.

LiveIntent’s SVP of Global Marketing, Kerel Cooper, says, “The upcoming cookie apocalypse could be disastrous to brands and publishers, particularly as publishers face unprecedented dire times and Amazon seeks to usurp nearly all e-retail.”

Google Cracks Down on Cookies

Google announced at its I/O Conference that it will make significant changes to how it handles third-party cookies. Citing the use of a variety of different kinds of cookies that users often can’t distinguish between, Google aims to make it more transparent and easier for users  to control this process. In a blog post, Google said, “We are making a number of upcoming changes to Chrome to enable these features, starting with modifying how cookies work so that developers need to explicitly specify which cookies are allowed to work across websites — and could be used to track users. The mechanism we use builds on the web's SameSite cookie attribute, and you can find the technical details on web.dev.”

Going forward, “Chrome will require developers to use this mechanism to access their cookies across sites. This change will enable users to clear all such cookies while leaving single domain cookies unaffected, preserving user logins and settings.”

Google says the change addresses more than privacy concerns--it also improves security: “This change also has a significant security benefit for users, protecting cookies from cross-site injection and data disclosure attacks like Spectre and CSRF by default. We also announced our plan to eventually limit cross-site cookies to HTTPS connections, providing additional important privacy protections for our users.”

The changes have marketers concerned, but so does Google’s crackdown on fingerprinting. According to another blog post, “Chrome also announced that it will more aggressively restrict fingerprinting across the web. When a user opts out of third-party tracking, that choice is not an invitation for companies to work around this preference using methods like fingerprinting, which is an opaque tracking technique. Google doesn’t use fingerprinting for ads personalization because it doesn't allow reasonable user control and transparency. Nor do we let others bring fingerprinting data into our advertising products.”

Couple these changes with Apple’s ITP anti-tracking updates--which, unlike Google’s changes, automatically blocks cookies--and the world of digital marketing is already being upended. And then there’s Facebook…

Facebook Lets You be Forgotten

Facebook has been teasing a “clear history” feature since it found itself in hot water over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but now the feature seems to be imminent. On May 15, Facebook announced it would be rolling out the “clear history” feature in the coming months.

The feature will let users delete data that the social network gathers from websites and apps outside of Facebook. This also means that data also won’t be available for advertising. In essence, it’s a lot like, say, clearing your cookies in a web browser.

Socialbakers CEO Yuval Ben-Itzhak isn’t running scared from the latest announcement. He says, "We welcome Facebook's announcement on the 'clear history' tool that will allow users to delete data that the social network gathers from websites and apps outside of Facebook, and no longer use that data for advertising. Marketers should look at a GDPR-safe approach where content is created and targeted based on the interests of users on each digital channel."

How Can Digital Marketers Cope?

So what are marketers to do when the two biggest platforms pull the rug out from under digital marketers? According to Ben-Itzhak, "New digital channels are added all of the time, as are new content formats and the tools marketers need to execute on. However, there is one thing that does not change: the importance of knowing your audience. Contextual audience profiling, where marketers can smartly and quickly identify the key marketing-personas in their audience—as well as  learn about their interests and demographics—will drive meaningful and relevant content creation, and content that is also GDPR-safe for targeting.”

What do GDPR compliant content look like? See “GDPR for Content Design, Development, and Deployment” for guidance about how to succeed in a more privacy-friendly marketing world.

Ben-Itzhak adds, “Once the marketer has created outstanding content that has been specifically created for their audience, then marketers can wisely choose the channel and format 'of the day' to deliver the content using the most relevant platform available to them."

Cooper says there is a two-step process to weathering these changes: “The first step is estimating the impact publishers must audit how much of their ability to market to or monetize audiences relies on third-party cookies. That way, they can estimate the impact on their business.”  

Cooper continues: “The next step is that publishers must evaluate their first-party data strategy so they can prepare for the future. Publishers that require a login to access their website have the world at their fingertips. This is because that login guarantees a relationship with the audience that can continue without an intermediary like the walled gardens. That login (logins require email) is the key to an email program for publishers, and an email program represents a permission-based, logged-in channel that brands and publishers control.”

In the end, Cooper expects that email marketing will emerge as the most consistent, important channel in the digital marketing mix. “The less obvious benefit of this approach is that in a world suffering from a cookie apocalypse, the email address is the most persistent, ubiquitous ID in the digital ecosystem and by combining an email strategy with sophisticated, modern onboarding tools, marketers can append cookies to a UniversalID, essentially creating a replacement for a world where traditional third-party targeting is obsolete. Publishers will reap those rewards.”


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