Calm Down: Cookies Aren’t Going Anywhere Fast

jeremycornfeldt“Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jeremy Cornfeldt, President of Client Services, Strategy & Product at iProspect.

We’ve all heard the news that Mozilla, by default, will start blocking third-party cookies in the upcoming launch of Firefox 22. As a result, many brands and pundits are up in arms about the potential impact this could have on advertisers.

Mimicking the mayhem of Y2K and the Mayan 2012 doomsday commotion, people appear to be wildly overreacting; some even say that the cookie has only five years left to live.

The bottom line is that without legislation, cookies aren’t going away anytime soon. Not only is cookie tracking too important to both publishers and advertisers alike, it’s also the only effective and scalable solution available on the market.

The Case For Cookie Tracking

Today, many brands’ sites are, frankly, a mess. They have too many tags with no thought behind them, which can cause massive website slowdown and create a poor customer experience. While tags help capture data, there is now so much of them that tracking remains absolutely critical for better viewing and targeting.

For today and the foreseeable future, cookie tracking presents the best solution for coping with this data growth. While other tagless options exist, they aren’t yet reliable or scalable. Longer-term solutions such as browser fingerprinting or Java tracking may ultimately succeed but first need to be scaled and proven.

In addition, much of the movement away from cookies seems tied to supposed wholesale consumer objections to being tracked. But consumer data apparently negates this idea; only a few people opt out of being tracked, which means that publishers will continue to track them.

Don’t get me wrong.  A “tagless” solution is undoubtedly coming, but I don’t think it will necessarily be a cookieless solution.

Changes Won’t Come Suddenly

That said, I do expect the challenge of collecting and aggregating data to continue growing. Even though I don’t think all cookie tracking will abruptly end, we could very well see a reduction in the amount of accessible cookie data. In today’s convergent landscape, where customers often transact across many different channels, this data is critical to advertiser effectiveness.

However, there’s no need for panic. If new rules are coming, the changes will likely take effect first in France or Spain, which have stricter laws than the U.S. Changes also would have to overcome certain opposition from global data-generating and data-storing giants such as Amazon, eBay and Facebook.

What We Can Do

We can do our part to limit the likelihood of havoc-wreaking regulation via responsible marketing, self-regulation and providing information to drive positive consumer behavior.

Regardless of the outcome of this cookie-tracking debate, there are a few important things that marketers and advertisers should do to ensure long-term success:

  • Market Responsibly: Congress wants us to be responsible and to self-regulate. This means that advertisements should give consumers the option to opt out. A seamless and well-thought-out consumer experience will become increasingly important. Brands will need to make sure that tracking solutions don’t cause any problems with site experience or page load.
  • Develop Clear Privacy Policies: Create a simple and easy-to-understand privacy policy, and always allow customers to opt out.
  • Choose a Trustworthy Partner: While the brand is responsible for deciding how many tags it wants on its site, the right digital agency partner can help prioritize which tags are critical to the ongoing success of the brand’s media campaigns.  The right partner can also help navigate through all the complex regulation issues.

So let’s not overreact and expect the worst just yet.

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  1. A thoughtful discussion and I fully support the conclusion “What We Can Do.” Companies must market responsibly, support industry self-regulation, provide users with an simple and effective method to opt-out if they so choose, and work with responsible partners and reliable data sources that honor high standards — and those partners should also participate in self-regulation.

  2. I’m pretty sure when he said “dead in 5 years” Paul was referring to the use of 3rd party cookies, in which case he was being generous. On the other hand, first party cookies and the state they provide to the browser aren’t going anywhere.

    However when you have browsers taking militant anti-3rd party cookie stances, top plugins being built around blocking them, and legislation coming down the pike to regulate cookies the “calm down” stance starts to look a little pollyannish. This is how firefox/moz views the issue:

    Additionally, It’s doubtful that FB, Google and Twitter are going to prop up 3rd party cookies. These guys would love to be in control of identify / addressability. If you have a FB or Google cookie (and cross-device log in), who needs the 3rd party cookies? They’d prefer everything to be synched with them (witness how much data FB is porting into it’s targeting platform).

    It’s time for us to do something more than pay lip service to privacy and transparency and put the individual at the center of our data strategies – in the long run it’ll pay off with much higher quality data that can be leveraged many times more effectively than the 3rd party variety.

  3. David Stevenson

    I think that it is a fair assumption that 3rd party cookie use is heading the way of the dinosaur sooner than many expect (perhaps in 5 years), but I agree that this is not a panic moment, and that at first the changes will only be reduction in the amount of accessible cookie data. With “Tagless” solutions still unproven even in the Mobil environments It will be some time until a scalable solution appears.

    It is however time to consider some serious strategies to privacy and transparency concerns and the accuracy of individual data.