Your Move, Apple: Facebook Intros First-Party Cookie Option To Power Its Tracking Pixel

The third-party cookie isn’t crumbling so much as imploding.

In a Friday email to advertisers and publishers, Facebook said that on Oct. 24 it will start offering a first-party cookie option for the Facebook tracking pixel so that businesses can keep targeting their ads and measuring their campaigns without relying on third-party cookies. Facebook confirmed the release to AdExchanger.

Buyers and pubs can immediately log into Events Manager, Facebook’s data management system, to update their settings in preparation.

“This change is in line with updates made by other online platforms, as use of first-party cookies for ads and site analytics is becoming the preferred approach by some browsers,” Facebook wrote in its message.

That’s a mild way to characterize how some browsers feel about third-party cookies.

Apple has been particularly aggressive in its attacks on third-party cookies in Safari, starting with Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) last year, a mechanism that blocks cookies if they don’t have a first-party connection to the user.

In June at its Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple made a move to kill digital fingerprinting in iOS 12 and its latest Mac OS, making a direct dig at Facebook. “Data companies are clever and relentless,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering, at the time.

ITP is a particular headache for Facebook, which relies on third-party cookies to match website events from Safari users, to measure conversions, to optimize performance and to build segments for things like Dynamic Ads or website Custom Audiences.

For its part, Mozilla is planning to release ITP-like functionality within Firefox in the very near future.

In response, digital ad giants like Google and Microsoft, which have quite a lot of skin in the third-party cookie game, have rolled out first-party cookie solutions to enable continued ad tracking and analytics in Safari.

Facebook’s version is similar. When a user clicks on an ad served by Facebook, a unique string of numbers will be tacked onto the URL of the landing page. Opted-in first-party pixels on the site will get written into the browser as a first-party cookie, which will be included with any events that get sent along to Facebook. No tracking or measurement will happen until a first-party relationship is established.

Advertisers and publishers aren’t required to enable first-party cookies within the Facebook pixel, but, if they don’t, the information Facebook is able to share back on campaign measurement will be curtailed.

Although the way Facebook’s ad products work won’t change, in cases where there aren’t first-party cookies feeding Facebook’s pixel, reporting will inevitably be less granular for conversions and activity coming from Safari.

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