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The future of internet tracking

Most internet users are unaware of just how much we are tracked online. Our behavior is constantly monitored, from the sites we visit to the ads we click. 

In the US, a study by Statistica found 69% of US respondents stated that they are willing to accept risks to their online privacy to make their life more convenient, with 48% claiming it to be impossible to protect their privacy.

While some internet users may be comfortable with being tracked, others find the surveillance unsettling and intrusive. In this article, we'll explore the future of internet tracking, focusing on Google's evolving stance on third-party cookies.


Google's evolving stance on third-party cookies 

In January 2020, Google announced it would phase out support for third-party cookies in its Chrome browser. This move will take place in 2023 and is part of Google's efforts to create a more privacy-focused web and follows its announcement of the Privacy Sandbox initiative in August 2019. 


Google Privacy Sandbox 

The Privacy Sandbox is an initiative from Google to develop new standards for online advertising that respect users' privacy. As part of this initiative, Google has proposed several standards, and these have included: 

  • FLOC (Federated Learning of Cohorts): Google initially proposed FLOC as a solution to replace third-party cookies. FLOC groups users with similar interests without revealing their identities. After initial trials, many internet security experts felt FLOC offered too much flexibility and granularity, allowing fingerprinting to identify individual users within a cohort. 
  • TOPIC (Treatment of Personal Information by Companies): To improve FLOC, Google announced TOPIC. TOPIC restricts the categorization of user data to 300 cohorts, including principles for companies to follow when handling personal data. Despite the improvements over FLOC, there are still some concerns TOPIC doesn’t go far enough and therefore Google are still in a feedback and testing phase. 
  • FLEDGE (First-party Led Engagement for Growth): Google's proposals for new privacy standards have also included standards for remarketing with FLEDGE. FLEDGE is a set of tools businesses can use to collect and use first-party data while respecting user privacy. Like TOPIC, FLEDGE is currently being tested prior to a potential full rollout. 


Apple, Microsoft, and Mozilla on third-party cookies 

In many ways, Google is behind the internet browser curve in blocking third-party cookies and protecting its users' privacy. Apple Safari has blocked third-party cookies by default since 2018, while Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox have done the same since early 2020. 


A future without third-party data 

So, what does the future of internet tracking look like without third-party cookies? This is likely to lead to a more fragmented web, with Google, Apple, and Microsoft each paving a new direction and dawn in online advertising. 

Without third-party cookies, achieving the same level of tracking, clarity, and insight as a marketer will be challenging. Still, there are several potential alternatives for businesses to consider integrating into their marketing mix, and we have outlined the most likely ways forward below: 


First-party data 

This is data that is collected directly from users by the business itself. This can be done through website forms, transactions, surveys, customer loyalty programs, and other interactions. 

Examples of first-party data include information that companies collect about their customers and prospects, such as name, contact information, purchase history, and preferences. First-party data can also be collected from company-owned channels such as websites, mobile apps, events, and physical stores. 


How to collect first-party data

There are a few ways to collect first-party data: 

  1. Use web analytics tools to track user behavior on your website or app. 
  2. Use customer relationship management (CRM) software to track interactions with your customers. 
  3. Use surveys and polls to collect feedback from your customers or users. 
  4. Use social media monitoring tools to track what people say about your brand online. 
  5. Use marketing automation software to track how users interact with your marketing campaigns. 
  6. Use data mining and market research techniques to gather information about your target market. 

Creating customer connection through first-party data

Download your free whitepaper to dive deeper into the value of first-party data.

Second-party data 

If you're struggling to get your hands on first-party data, you can always try a second-party data solution. First-party data becomes second-party when shared with a separate organization. A good first-party data provider will have an established audience and the ability to collect accurate, timely, and relevant data to support decision-making and drive marketing. 

Most online marketers know the power of first-party data, but few maximize the potential of second-party data. 


How to collect second-party data

There are several ways to get your hands on second-party data. One way is to purchase it from a data provider, and another is to partner with another company with complementary products or services and exchange data. 

If you're not using second-party data, you're missing out on a valuable resource that can help you improve your marketing campaigns and make better business decisions. If you're unsure how to get started, contact our team for help. 


Contextual advertising 

Contextual advertising targets users based on the content of the web pages they are viewing. This technique is used to target ads on both search engines and websites. Advertisers use contextual targeting bids on keywords relevant to the web page's topic where their ad will appear.  

Contextual ads can be an effective way to reach potential customers who are interested in what you have to offer. It can also help improve your click-through rate, conversion rate, and overall ROI. 


How to create contextual ads

One popular method is to use Google AdWords. AdWords allows you to create text, image, or video ads that appear on Google search results pages and websites that are part of the Google Display Network. Another way to develop contextual ads is to use Bing Ads. Bing Ads also allows you to create text, image, or video ads that appear on Bing search results pages and websites that are part of the Microsoft Advertising network. 


Server and client-side tracking 

There are two main cookieless ways to track web traffic: Client-side tracking uses JavaScript code inserted into the web page to collect visitor data. Server-side tracking uses log files stored on the web server to track visitor activity. Client-side provides more accurate tracking information, whilst server-side offers resource and reliability advantages. 


How to set up server and client-side tracking 

The easiest way to get started is using Google Tag Manager. Google Tag Manager is already fit for a cookieless world, as it runs a server-side container pushing data to Google Analytics without using third-party cookies. Create a Google Tag Manager account, publish your container to your website manually or using plugins, adding and removing your tracking tags in your Google Tag Manager account.


Identity solutions 

Identity solutions are systems that help organizations manage identities, access control, and other security functions. They can secure physical and digital resources and ensure that only authorized users can access data and applications. Identity solutions can also be used to track and monitor user activity and generate reports that can help improve security policies and procedures. 

At present, the major issue with identity solutions is scale, which necessitates collecting and exchanging a large volume of user data from thousands of publishers and advertisers. Multiple ID solutions are required to provide enough data to publishers and marketers to identify customers correctly. 

Several identity solutions on the market offer independent shared identity infrastructure to support user tracking, with average visitor match rates ranging from 15% to 25%. 


Our predictions for the future of online advertising and tracking

What does the future hold for online advertising and tracking? Here are our predictions: 


Greater public awareness 

As people become more aware of online advertising and tracking, they may start to take steps to protect their privacy, such as using ad blockers or limiting the amount of personal information they share online. This could have a significant impact on online advertising and tracking effectiveness. 


Increased regulation 

As awareness of privacy and online security grows, we'll likely see increased online tracking regulation. This could include stricter rules around collecting data and new disclosure requirements for companies that collect and use this data. 


More innovative tracking methods 

As the online landscape continues to evolve, so will the advertising and tracking methods. We can expect to see more innovative and sophisticated tracking methods being developed and used, including cross-site tracking and personalization. The loss of third-party cookies will prove an initial obstacle to overcome. Still, with the tech available and the rewards so high, targeted communication will inevitably become more personalized. 


Advertising to get more expensive 

As online advertising competition increases, optimization will become more challenging, and advertising will get more expensive. With additional competition for attention and limited ad space, the cost of advertising will rise in even the deepest niches.  


Creativity and quality become increasingly important

To break through the noise, companies will need to be more creative. With the increased use of AI and automation, the value of creativity will grow. This will include strategic creativity, tactical creativity, and creativity in each of marketing's disciplines.   


How we can help

If you are looking to thrive in a cookieless world, get in touch. Our data activation platform is built on first-party data safe from impending changes. It's collected by us, owned by us, and rigorously checked by us.

We provide access to uniquely qualified audience built from this first-party data and partner with cleints to execute full-funnel strategies that unlock their value.