After Google publicly announced its decision to “remove support for third-party cookies” in 2020, cookies, the extent to which internet activity can be tracked, and calls for regulations rose to dominate headlines. Spotlighted, after operating incognito since the inception of the internet, the collection of first-party data raised questions about privacy rights and infringement on constitutional ones. Since the discursive opportunity emerged, obtaining first-party data has become more and more challenging as browsers have begun to build trust with their consumers by breaking ties with cookie collectors.
Cookies come in five primary forms. Small text files describe cookies designated to users’ devices, allowing sites to identify and track internet behavior on an individual basis. First-party cookies are embedded into websites, and track web activity on the domain the website was visited on. Third-party cookies are cookies owned by third parties who have been granted access to the visited website. Session cookies are saved on users’ devices, only while they access certain sites, while persistent cookies, the fifth type, are stored on consumers’ devices outside of the website session.
The last two kinds of cookies rely on tags for device storage. These instruments store data regarding how a user navigated to a site, which pages they interacted with, and any purchases made. Two types of tags exist. The first, ultrasound beacons, sound high-frequency noises that signal linked devices, like tablets and phones, that are owned by the user. The second, browser fingerprinting, registers the preferences, permissions, and other settings of a device as means for identifying it.
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With the crackdowns have come major fallouts. Since the enactment of the GDPR, the European Union has imposed over 800 fines across the United Kingdom and European Economic Area (EEA). Preeminent corporations have paid hefty fines. The Italian telecommunications group Wind Tre surrendered $20 million due to “unlawful direct marketing activities”, and TIM, another Italian telecom corporation, omitted $31.5 million for “unlawful and aggressive marketing practices”. Google was fined $56.6 million for “violations in providing privacy notices to users” and Amazon forfeited a whopping $877 million for “failure to obtain freely given consent”.
Despite American distaste for cookie tracking, a recent study, conducted in collaboration by Google and Ipsos, found that consumers appreciate the personalized results that they yield. Revealing that, “91% of internet users aged 16-74 say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations that are relevant to them”, a conundrum between personalization and privacy emerges, as web surfers express their need for both.
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Corporations want both, and struggle to effectively market consumers without sufficient data. Data gaps emerge as collectors struggle to decipher which market segments and demographics are reflected in their retrieved information, the volume of non-consenting users as they try to uncover the true size of their audience, and how to strategize and cater their operations to suit users with increasing anonymity.
A 3-part approach can help assist marketers, helping them obtain the data they desire while staying in compliance with privacy and internet laws. First, collectors can acquire anonymous data, providing them general audience information regarding link clicks, page visits, and transactions. Emerging tools, like Google’s Consent Mode, released in April of 2021, can allow for the collection of site interaction information without identifiers. Second, websites can encourage visitors to register for accounts and perks on the site, creating a consent form of data collection. This way, collectors receive named data as they find new methods of promoting and persuading users to log in. Lastly, cookieless tracking mechanisms, like monitoring the ratio between site sessions that result in purchases or between ad exposure and website visitation, can produce critical data. With each strategy, marketers can reap the value of cookies through consented and analytical tactics.
Marketing solutions to replace the ease of data collection via cookies can be costly. Nonetheless, as regulations continue to be implemented and consumers become more aware of the extent of tracking, valuing user privacy is of high priority. With re-strategization, the power of data can be harnessed equitably and can be used to generate potent success.