Goodbye third-party cookies! Is zero and first-party the answer?

  • by Osano Staff
  • · posted on May 2, 2022
  • · 5 min read
Goodbye third-party cookies! Is zero and first-party the answer?

We're in the midst of a data privacy revolution. In a report by KPMG, 86% of Americans surveyed reported a growing concern about data privacy, and 40% don't trust companies to use their data ethically. On the legislative side, regulations such as CCPA, CPRA, and the GDPR limit how data is collected. With third-party cookies set to lose support from Google in 2023, everything marketers have been doing for nearly 30 years is about to change.

The death of the third-party cookie is imminent, and marketers fear they will need to spend more money to gather less data. So what's a marketer to do? 

This blog post will help you prepare for the third-party phaseout by looking at what a third-party cookie is and strategies for gathering data once Google pulls support. We'll talk about the potential to replace third-party cookies with first-party cookies and zero-party data, so you can build a business that consumers trust while maintaining the relevant data you need to market your brand.

Remind me: What are third-party cookies?

In the privacy revolution, not all cookies are good cookies. Users often hastily consent to third-party cookies in a rush to view content without knowing what they're accepting.

Let’s define third-party cookies

So, what are third-party cookies? Third-party cookies are tracking codes generated by a company other than yours and placed on a web visitor's computer. Advertisers and social media networks typically use them to track users between websites to build a robust user profile for targeted advertising purposes. This data determines what ads to populate and where they will be most effective. 

Let's take a look at an example of third-party cookies. One day, a visitor researches "blue light glasses" on Amazon but decides not to buy. Later, that same person starts seeing ads for various blue light glasses on unrelated sites. It's very likely third-party cookies triggered those advertisements.

Why are third-party cookies going away?

It's a little creepy how much advertisers know about you. Third-party cookies can give the impression of being "watched" all the time and pose a security risk if hackers hijack cookies. 

Under the GDPR, cookies are considered personal data. GDPR mandates that a website cannot store third-party cookies without the explicit consent of its users. 

In a 2019 blog post, Google's director of Chrome engineering announced: "a new initiative to develop a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on the web." They call it a Privacy Sandbox. 

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Since then, Google has fleshed out what its Privacy Sandbox entails, creating privacy-preserving, open-standard mechanisms that "sustain a healthy, ad-supported web in a way that will render third-party cookies obsolete."

By 2023, Chrome will no longer support third-party cookies. They're not the first browser to do this– Safari and Firefox began blocking third-party cookies in 2013. However, they are the largest. As of September 2021, Google Chrome held 50.46% of the internet browser market share in the United States.

What are first-party cookies? What about zero-party data?

Does the death of third-party cookies mean we're going back to a generic internet and losing our ability to market effectively? Not at all! 

Google promises a privacy-first web while maintaining the benefits of digital advertising. In a blog post, David Temkin, Google's Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy, and Trust, wrote, "People shouldn't have to accept being tracked across the web in order to get the benefits of relevant advertising. And advertisers don't need to track individual consumers across the web to get the performance benefits of digital advertising." 

Marketers will love what comes next. Google predicts "a future where there is no need to sacrifice relevant advertising and monetization in order to deliver a private and secure experience."

There's hope for replacing third-party cookies with data that marketers can use to move forward. Here are two options:

First-party cookies

Third-party cookies are out. Are first-party cookies the answer? 

First-party cookies are codes generated and stored on a website visitor's computer that track data about their interaction with your business. This data includes passwords, behavior on your site, how often they visit, and other basic analytics. 

With this information, your business can craft a targeted marketing strategy based on their interest in your site. You may know where consumers go after visiting your site by tracking clicks, but you cannot track behavior once they leave your website. 

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There's one big difference when comparing first-party vs. third-party cookies. First-party cookies track data on your site alone. Third-party cookies can leave a trail of crumbs through the other sites you visit. 

How can zero-party data build trust?

First-party cookies track customers while they're visiting your site. Think of those as the online version of a cashier keeping an eye on customers while in the store. 

Zero-party data is gathered from the customer themself. In a brick-and-mortar shop, the cashier may collect data when they ask a customer for their phone number or email to join the business's loyalty program. 

Online, zero-party data looks like communication preferences, purchase intentions, and other information proactively given to the brand for a better shopping experience. 

Instead of guessing a customer's intentions or amalgamating data from other websites, zero-party data is shared explicitly. This tactic builds trust and a relationship between a brand and a customer.

How to prepare for the third party phaseout

In our next blog, we'll go into more details about how to prepare for Google's 2023-end cut-off date for third-party cookie support. Until then, here are the steps to think through:

  • Implement a first-party cookie strategy.
  • Go directly to your consumers for zero-party data.
  • Be transparent about how you use collected data.
  • Build customer relationships through alternative engagement strategies, such as newsletters, online chats, and social media interaction.
  • Set up a cookie consent management program to block third-party cookies.
When you transition from third-party cookies to first-party cookies and zero-party data, you build consumer trust without requiring them to sacrifice private data for convenience. 

Use Osano to gain consent while you phase out third-party cookies

Are you ready to remove all third-party cookies from your website? Osano can help. Our consent management platform automatically blocks and unblocks third-party scripts to ensure unsanctioned third parties don't get you in trouble. With just one line of JavaScript on your website, we keep you compliant in more than 40 countries. 

Over 750,000 businesses already use Osano to stay compliant. Sign up for a demo or try Osano free for 30 days

About The Author · Osano Staff

The Osano staff is a diverse team of free thinkers who enjoy working as part of a distributed team with the common goal of working to make a more transparent internet. Occasionally, the team writes under the pen name of our mascot, “Penny, the Privacy Pro.”