The word “cookies” is no longer limited to describing a tasty treat. Today, we understand the term through the lens of tech — cookies are a way for websites to improve digital experiences, serve personalized ads, and save passwords.
Though helpful, our affinity toward cookies has dwindled in recent years. We’ve grown warier of digital ads and more concerned about user privacy and data protection. In light of regulations such as the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), tech companies have begun revisiting the role that cookies play in our digital experiences. Browsers are fighting a new battle to rethink the future of privacy, with each company introducing significant changes to how they treat cookies.
But what does this mean for everyday users? Will these changes cripple digital campaigns that rely on audience targeting? How do different web browsers currently handle third-party cookies? How can you enable or disable third-party cookie tracking in your browsers?
Check out our comprehensive guide on managing first- and third-party cookies for the most popular web browsers.
Wait, What Are Cookies?
Cookies are tiny data files that are stored on your browser as you navigate the internet. Each time you visit a website, the website’s server will read these data files to obtain information about the sites you click, browse, and scroll through.
There are two main types of cookies:
- First-party cookies. If you’ve ever auto-logged into a website or permitted Google to store a password, that’s first-party cookies in action. First-party cookies are used to remember your login details, website configurations (such as language preferences), and products added to your shopping cart. Without these authentication cookies, you’ll have to manually enter your login details every single time you visit a website or re-add items to the cart if you accidentally close the tab. These cookies are the key to seamless user experiences and are set by the domain of the site you are visiting.
- Third-party cookies. Third-party cookies are the crux of online advertising. From retargeting to tracking to attribution, this type of cookie is used by marketers to provide their target audience with a personalized browsing experience beyond the site they are visiting. If you’ve ever abandoned your cart and then seen an ad on Facebook for the very same product, that’s third-party cookies at work. Third-party cookies are set by tracking cookies from advertisers on the site that you are visiting.
What Is Cookies Management?
Browsers have started to introduce new data protection features in order to comply with new regulations and transfer control back to users. However, given the unique revenue models of each browser, their agendas are vastly different.
Google Chrome, for example, is attempting to cut down on tracking without decimating their advertising business. Comparatively, Apple, which sells physical products and does not rely on ad revenue, is able to take an absolutist stance against tracking and cookies in Safari.
So, depending on your go-to browser, managing your cookies and user privacy can mean conquering different beasts — especially since most privacy settings are hidden deep within each browser’s menus.
We’re here to help: Follow these instructions, and with just a few clicks, you’ll be able to take advantage of the new cookies management settings that browsers now offer.
For everything else you need to know about consumer privacy:
With an estimated global market share of over 62%, Google Chrome is the most popular web browser for all devices. Given its market dominance in both the advertising and browser spaces, any changes Google makes to third-party cookies have enormous implications for the ad tech industry.
Currently, Chrome’s privacy features are not as stringent as those in Firefox and Safari, but this is set to change. In January 2020, Google announced it would spend the next two years phasing out support for third-party cookies. The tech giant will instead implement an initiative called Privacy Sandbox, a new ad ecosystem providing less-invasive technical replacements for cookies in a way that placates privacy advocates. Per their announcements, these new technologies will make it easier for advertisers to target and track specific audience profiles rather than individual users.
To clear your cookies on Chrome, click on the three-dot icon menu in the upper right corner. Then, select “More tools” > “Clear browsing data.” This will open a new tab with a pop-up box, which allows you to check a button to clear your “Cookies and other site data” (this includes both first- and third-party cookies).
Note: You can choose the time range of the cookies you want to clear, whether it’s those from the last hour, the previous seven days, or all time.
Pro Tip: If you want to see what cookies have been installed locally on your computer, click on the “See all cookies and site data” button. Rather than removing your existing cookies, this tab will allow you to review and delete them one by one.
Chrome’s closest competitor, Apple’s Safari, has a little over 15% of the market share, but that doesn’t mean it’s not setting the new industry standard in terms of tracking and cookies. Given Apple’s brand positioning as a champion of user privacy and data protection, it’s unsurprising that the company is able to take a firm stance about third-party cookies.
Since Apple’s 2017 release of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) privacy feature, Safari has only ramped up its crusade against cookies. In the 2020 ITP update, Safari now blocks all third-party cookies. In other words, when you use Safari on your Mac or iPhone, no advertiser or website can track your digital activities across sites.
For marketers, ad publishers, and other ad tech players, ITP has brought on a slew of headaches. With third-party cookies blocked, advertisers are unable to manage ad-frequency capping, retargeting, and attribution modeling properly. Some Safari users may see the same ads over and over again, while others will see poorly targeted ones that are totally irrelevant.
Additionally, first-party cookies used for analytics and attribution — which were once available for two years — are now deleted by Safari after seven days. Given the extended nature of digital customer journeys that span multiple channels and devices, ITP has made it nearly impossible for marketers to do accurate attribution and analytics for Safari users.
For more on what’s next with third-party cookies and digital marketing:
If you want to review and manage your cookies settings in Safari, click on “Safari” in the top bar > “Preferences” > “Privacy.” In the pop-up window, under “Cookies and website data,” you can click on “Manage Website Data,” which provides different options for you to remove all existing cookies or only those from certain sites. You could also choose to “Block all cookies,” but this might log you out of websites and cause some pages that rely on first-party cookies not to load correctly.
Firefox has long been the go-to choice for users who are more concerned with user privacy. It’s an open-source browser that’s managed by Mozilla Foundation, a non-profit organization.
For a while, it included baked-in ad-blockers, as well as anti-tracking capabilities to keep users safe on the internet. In January 2019, Firefox 65 introduced even more new privacy controls. One update was to allow users to select their preferred tracking settings:
- Standard. The default settings balance protection and performance by blocking third-party trackers and cryptominers.
- Strict. This setting blocks all known trackers and cryptominers (but some websites may no longer load properly).
- Custom. Users can customize which trackers and scripts to block.
To select your settings, click the upper-right menu button, then select “Options” > “Privacy & Security.” To clear your entire cookie history, scroll to “Cookies and Site Data” > “Clear Data” > “Cookies and Site Data.”
Pro Tip: To see the behind-the-scenes cookies settings for a particular website, select the “shield” icon in Firefox’s address bar. If, for example, you want to block first-party cookies for that website, you can toggle the advances setting directly in the drop-down menu.
Goodbye, Internet Explorer. Hello, Microsoft Edge! In case you missed the news, Microsoft has introduced a new, faster browser that focuses on improving user privacy.
In Edge Chromium, the latest version of Microsoft Edge, users can choose between three cookies privacy levels (similar to Firefox): unrestricted, balanced, and strict. Edge automatically accepts all first-party cookies, and users can choose whether or not to block third-party cookies by default as well.
To manage your privacy settings in Edge, select the three-dot menu at the top bar, and select “Settings” > “Privacy and services.” To clear cookies, simply click “Clear browsing data” (you can choose to clear specific cookies rather than delete everything). You can also choose to clear particular cookies every time you exit the browser.
So, What Does This Mean for Digital Marketing?
With all popular browsers revamping their privacy protection and cookies settings, it’s clear that online users have more browser options than ever before. But what does this mean for digital marketing?
For decades, marketers have had to adapt to new technologies, changing market conditions, and new customer expectations. The death of third-party cookies is just another example of marketers having to think outside the box.
Here are some ideas on how to adapt to a new era of digital marketing, at least until Google launches a unified standard for replacing third-party cookies:
- Consider more precise, more transparent, and more creative ways to collect customer consent. With all websites opting for a pop-up box with technical language, it’s all too easy for customers just to click the “Do not allow cookies” button.
An example of a unique cookies consent pop-up from a bakery’s website.
- Treat customer data with integrity. One reason for the backlash of third-party cookies is how brands have been leveraging the data they collected — neverending, spam-like ads that followed audiences from site to site. Personalization became over-personalization, with people reporting targeted ads coming across as “creepy.” In this new era, treating the data you receive with care and respect will be the only way your audience will trust you with their information in the first place.
- Experiment with other ways to develop customer profiles. Rather than tracking their audience’s online activities, marketers can go directly to different customer segments and encourage them to share any directional feedback, testimonials, and reviews.
- Use contextual targeting. Even though third-party cookies are a mainstay in our digital marketing toolbox, they are just one tactic for targeting. For example, contextual targeting is a great way to deliver highly-relevant ads at different stages of the customer journey without needing to collect customer data.
- Build direct relationships with customers through content. At the end of the day, building a direct relationship with customers is the best way to gain their trust and eventually convince them to share more information about themselves, which you can use to personalize their marketing journey. To start forming a connection, consider developing useful or entertaining content.
For more on how to market in a world without third-party cookies:
As the go-to e-commerce marketing solution for many brands, AdRoll is keeping a close eye on all the new industry changes that will affect targeting, ad-buying, and the future of digital campaigns. For more updates on consumer privacy changes (and everything else you need to grow your brand!), be sure to check out our marketing resource library.
After 15 years in e-commerce, Chris left marketplace management at eBay to lead customer lifecycle programs at AdRoll. Today, Chris is using his love of the small business to connect AdRoll’s unique and diverse customer base with growth. Beyond the office, Chris is a lover of art, cars, and quiet nights with his family.