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Why are some people concerned about 3rd party cookies?

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Why are some people concerned about 3rd party cookies?


In the first 2 articles in this series, we looked at what cookies are, and what the differences are between 1st party and 3rd party cookies, and we looked at how the Revive Adserver software uses both 1st party and 3rd party cookies.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the reasons some people give for being concerned about 3rd party cookies.

Quick recap of 3rd party cookies

As a quick reminder, a third party cookie is created by a system or service on domain B, while it is being used within the context of a website on domain A. The website visitor on domain A sees the content of that site, but also some ‘embedded’ content of the service on domain B. That service could be anything, for example a weather report and forecast, stock market tickers, news headlines, and also advertising.

Retargeting in advertising

In particular around advertising, people have noticed that things can become a little bit spooky. Let’s assume for a moment that you’re looking to buy a new car. At some point, you visit the website of a car brand to view their lineup. An hour later, on a totally different site, doing something entirely different, you suddenly see ads for that specific car brand, and even the model you looked at. The next day, while visiting yet another site, again, you see these ads for the car brand once again. This could go on for days or even weeks. It almost feels like you’re being followed around the internet, and you can’t shake them off.


What is actually happening is a marketing approach called retargeting, although Google (being Google) call it ‘remarketing’.

Here’s how that works:

  • The very moment you landed on the car brand website, an advertising system running in an external domain created a 3rd party cookie on your computer or phone, which records the assumed fact that you are interested in buying a new car.
  • Later in the day, when you’re simply reading up on today’s events, the news website happens to be using that very same advertising system for their ads. As a result, the cookie about your car interest is sent along with the ad call.
  • The advertising system has a campaign for the car brand available, and because of the presence of the cookie, some ads for these cars will be displayed on the news pages, instead of just a randomly selected ad for just about anything.
  • The next day, you’re going over the sports news of the night before, and the sports website also uses that very same advertising system. The cookie is still present, and therefore you once again see ads for the car brand.

Retargeting is big business

Over the years, ad companies have become bigger and bigger, and a few of them dominate the entire advertising landscape. Their ads are literally everywhere. Every time your computer connects with a site or service that shows these ads, you’re likely to see these retargeted ads. If you don’t know about cookies, specifically 3rd party cookies, retargeting can quickly start to feel creepy, as if “they know how you are”.

That is – of course – not true, all that’s happening is that the ad system is simply reacting to the presence of a cookie. They have no idea who you are, and for the most part they don’t even care. You once looked at a car website, and that’s interpreted as a signal that you are more likely to be in the market for a new car than somebody else who didn’t look at those cars.


Blaming the cookie

Over the years, a number of big ad tech companies went completely overboard with their retargeting activities. So much so, that it became a general annoyance to many people. At some point, the developers of Google Chrome – among others – decided that third party cookies were the cause of all these concerns. This is somewhat ironic, because Google has been making huge amounts of money with their retargeting practices all this time.

But the scene was set. The third party cookie had to go. The problem is that there are many legitimate and harmless use cases for third party cookies that will be broken in the process (as outlined in the earlier articles in this series).

In the meantime, Google (in particular) have been working hard to create their own systems and processes to replace the use of the third party cookie. Their ‘privacy sandbox’ initiative is one of them.

And anyone who uses the web while logged in with a Google account is also still being tracked, even without third party cookies enabled. Just think about that time when you searched for something on your phone, and then suddenly saw an ad for that same product or service on your laptop, your tablet, and your desktop computer the next couple of days and weeks. No cookies were involved there, since after all cookies that are created on one device will never be present on any other device.

So even after they’ve removed third party cookies completely, Google will still be able to track and retarget anyone with a Google account.

What’s next in this series?

In the next article in this series, we will be presenting an overview of the features of the Revive Adserver software that will be affected when the corresponding third party cookies are no longer available.

Articles in this Series:


What are Third Party Cookies?

This article explains what a cookie is, and what the difference is between a first-party cookie and a third-party cookie.


How does Revive Adserver use Cookies?

This article describes how first party and third party cookies are being used by the Revive Adserver software.


Why are some people concerned about 3rd party cookies?

We discuss the extensive use of cookies for retargeting, causing them to be labeled harmful by some people.

The post Why are some people concerned about 3rd party cookies? appeared first on Revive Adserver.

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