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What are third party cookies? And why is Google killing them?


This month, Google announced the impending death of third party cookies by revealing that they would withdraw support for the marketing tool on Google Chrome “within the next two years”. For those in the industry, this didn’t come as a big surprise.

However, the confirmation does mean that marketers now have a time limit to get themselves ready for a new way of advertising.

As an integrated agency, working across many different channels, we know the challenges this shift could pose. To help you understand, we break down the technical terms and discuss what the announcement means for the future of the industry.

What are cookies?

Cookies are small packets of data sent by websites to be stored in your computer’s web browser.

What are cookies used for?

Most people use cookies every day without even knowing it. Every time your login information pops up automatically on your favourite social media channel, that’s a cookie, storing your information on your browser so you don’t have to type it in on every visit. Notice how when you’re shopping online your shopping cart stays full, even when you click to a different site? That’s a cookie, storing your shopping data so that you can return and complete your purchase at a different time.

What are third party cookies?

Third-party cookies are any cookies on a website that are set by a different website than the one you are on. That could be from a third party video provider, a social media channel, or an advertising platform.

In the same way as first-party cookies, third party cookies are used to store user data. However, they are now primarily used by third-party advertisers to track user behaviour and create user profiles. Also called ‘tracking cookies’, these profiles store information on the websites you visit and what you do on them. This data can give advertisers real insight into your behaviour and enable a more personalised advertising approach from brands.

Analytics third party cookie

An example of a third party cookie:

1. You’re in the market for a new television. You’ve done some initial research, now, you visit an online retailer and browse a few different brands of television. You accept the website’s cookie policy.

2. You find the TV you’ve been looking at and you put it in your basket.

3. You think it’s probably worth shopping around so you leave the site and go on with your day.

4. The first-party cookie retains the information of that TV in your basket so you can return and checkout later on the website. The website also has a third-party advertiser code that retains the information and sends it to the ad server as a third party cookie.

5. Later in the day, you visit your favourite news website. Like most modern media publications it relies on advertising for income. It is part of the third party advertisers network so receives your information and serves you an advert with the same or a similar TV.

Why are cookies controversial?

What are Third Party Cookies emailUsers are more concerned about their data and how it’s used than ever. While Google has always been open with its processes with advertisers, it hasn’t always been clear to users how and when their data is being used. Since GDPR guidelines came into effect, websites that use cookies now must prompt users to accept the use of cookies when they visit a website, but for many, that isn’t enough.

The information stored by third party cookies is often personal data that they don’t want to be shared with anyone, never mind advertisers. The most controversial development in the practice though is the use of fingerprinting. While users can clear cookies from their browser, fingerprinting technology collects data that can not be cleared by users and so causes a huge privacy concern for advertisers and users.

Want more on how platform’s use our data? Read: ‘Can Facebook really read your mind?’.

What does Google’s announcement mean?

With over half of all web traffic coming from Google Chrome, the move is significant in the industry. There was no prior warning by Google which has left many advertisers confused and annoyed by the announcement. At the same time, Google announced the launch of its privacy sandbox – which is still quite a vague collection of proposals and an invite for collaboration in the industry to help improve privacy for Chrome users. If Google’s proposal works, it should mean that user data is more secure and tracked by ‘anonymised signals’ rather than by cookies.

In the medium term, marketers will lose a significant method they currently use to target customers. In the longer term, the industry will have to change. That might include developing solutions using first-party data from publishers or simply focusing on building better relationships with customers and the media they consume. Either way, internet users will have more of the privacy they crave.

Want to understand more about how to target your customers? Worried about a future free of third-party cookies? Give us a call (0161 850 0565) or an email at to see how we can help and see some of our fantastic case studies here.


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