The other day I was asked to share my thoughts on the impending cookie apocalypse. For those of you who are not familiar with the issue, the leading browser developers are threatening to end support for cookies, making it more challenging for marketers to track user behavior. Cookies are far from perfect. They don’t track users across devices, they can be easily cleared, reset, or just blocked, but we depend on them for much of our analytics and user experiences on the web.
For some good reading check out these articles:
WSJ: Web Giants Threaten End to Cookie Tracking
Venture Beat: When cookies go away: Google, ad exchanges, and ISPs fighting to control the future of the Internet
Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Apple have the ability to move away from cookies because 90+% of the time the user is logged into a Microsoft, Google, Facebook or Apple service already. This is why things like messaging apps are so critical for Google and Facebook – you are always logged in. It’s also why Microsoft and Apple really push for your PC account to be tied to your online profile. It’s one of the reasons why Google Apps and Google Hangouts are a huge part of Google’s strategy.
So if you aren’t one of those services — you are an Eloqua, a Marketo, or an OpenX– you may have to license the access to user identifying information or develop your own solution.
Alternatives include ISP packet tracking, or device identity tracking. Device identity tracking is based on the idea of a hardware profile comprised of your device configuration, connectivity, applications you are using, location, software installed, etc. Collect enough information and you have a device fingerprint. The flaw with this is tracking users across devices — a challenge also faced with cookies.
Apple, Microsoft and Google are the biggest developers of browsers. They all have the ability to track you through their services, so to them, cookies are unnecessary. We will probably see support for cookies going away in the next two years.
In the absence of cookies, advertising platforms will probably switch to partnering with an identity provider or just get gobbled up by bigger ad networks and we will see a lot of consolidation. Marketing automation an analytics tools will probably partner with one or more of the identity services like Google, or try device identification.
Legislation may also come into play. Too much control of your computing experience and anti-trust authorities (Europe first) step in. The political problem is cookies are perceived as a privacy issue, so it may not be politically savvy to force browser developers to retain cookie tracking.
As for marketers, the demand for the kind of data and experience options that cookies provide is not going away. It might just make it a little more complicated for the vendors we partner with to provide us with the data.