Advertising Digital Publishing
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3rd party cookie alternatives: Doubts and proposals grow

The world’s most popular browser, Google’s Chrome, announced they would be phasing out third-parties cookies within two years. Safari already blocks third-party cookies and Firefox blocks them when they’re used for tracking. iOS 14 and macOS are also adding new controls over user privacy and tracking. With the potential to disrupt the entire digital advertising industry and disrupt publisher revenue streams, there’s still no viable replacement solution.

There are a few proposals floating around, but no consensus on the way to move forward. With the clock ticking down, publishers are understandably concerned. There is some activity but there’s growing doubt about real progress.

Proposals to Replace Third-Party Cookies

Here are some of the proposals that have gotten the most attention recently:

Conversion Measurement APIs

Conversion measurement APIs would allow advertisers to measure conversion and performance without using third-party cookies. The Chrome development team has floated the idea and Apple has released an experimental attribution API.

Contextual Advertising

Various forms of enhanced contextual advertising models are also being discussed. One proposal is called Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC).  This would enable interest-based advertising but eliminate 1:1 marketing. PIGIN (Private Interest Groups, Including Noise) would let browsers track interests. Rather than advertisers tracking, browsers would track activity and target interest groups without individually identifying users.

Another proposal sports a great acronym for a confusingly-named process. TURTLEDOVE stands for Two Uncorrelated Requests, Then Locally-Executed Decision on Victory. The browser would control which users see which ads depending on the contextual ad request and advertiser-identified interest separate from browsing behavior.

Capped Privacy Budgets

Publishers might be given a “privacy budget” that caps the amount of personally-identifiable information that can be gathered and shared to eliminate so-called browser fingerprinting. If publishers exceed the cap, they could potentially lose API access.

Aggregated Reporting

Aggregate reporting API is another proposal. It would collapse data across multiple sites into a single report and avoid reliance on cross-site identification. It will provide third-party data, but not individually identifiable information for tracking.

Trust Tokens

Tracking an individual’s browser activity across the web has also been used to prevent fraud. Third-party cookies help with the detection of spammers and troublemakers. Trust Tokens have been suggested as an alternative to cross-browser tracking at the individual level. Privacy passes could be issued to trusted users but not be available for tracking.

Potential Workarounds

Chrome is also looking at ways to mitigate potential workarounds, such as cache inspection, navigation tracking, and network-level tracking.

There are some workarounds that would only benefit the largest companies. For example, enabling co-owned online properties to consider themselves first-parties, meaning they could share the cookies and data within related domains. That’s great if you’re Google and own YouTube or Facebook and own Instagram and WhatsApp.

You can read more about some of the proposals in Google’s privacy sandbox.

Control Your Own Destiny

Google reports that publishers already lose an average of 52% of advertising revenue when visitors block cookies. The percentage is higher for news-related websites. What happens when it’s universal?  And, the bigger question may be what happens when third-party cookies no longer work and there’s no imminent replacement?

All of this brings us back to the same strategy. Building first-party datasets are the best way to control your destiny as a publisher.

Advantages of First-Party Data

First-party data is the means by which you record and improve first-party relationships with your visitors. First-party relationships are valuable for a variety of reasons, including relevance, accuracy, availability, and cost-effectiveness. 

It allows publishers to serve relevant ads by knowing their audience intimately. Here are just a few of the ways first-party relationships can help publishers monetize their sites:

  1. Better audience insights about demographics, interests, preferences, and behavior
  2. Predictive analytics can help serve up ads more likely to convert
  3. Personalization to align ads with user’s interests and preferences
  4. Retargeting on your site, or through additional marketing for prospects that didn’t convert

For publishers, the stronger your relationship with your visitors, the more value you get from each visit.

Michael Yeon
VP Marketing, Admiral

By Admiral
Admiral helps digital publishers grow visitor relationships via adblock recovery, per-site subscriptions, multi-site subscriptions, email subscriptions, social subscriptions, privacy consent and more, powered by Admiral’s one-tag, one-vendor, one visitor experience Visitor Relationship Management (VRM) platform.

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