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Cookie deprecation update

November 2023 Lynette Loh, Head of Digital

With the first stages of Google’s cookie deprecation less than two months away, we are closer than ever to one of the largest changes to our industry. And despite the multiple delays and ongoing conversations in the last few years, more than 40% of advertisers globally are still unprepared.


What are cookies? 

A cookie is a tracking code that a server (e.g. a website) creates and then sends to a web browser. For almost 30 years, cookies have been essential in tracking website visitors and their behaviour. 

Not all cookies are bad.  

First-party cookies remain a perfectly legitimate way of collecting data; they have nowhere near the effect on individual privacy as their third-party cousins.  

What are third-party cookies? 

A third-party cookie is a tracking code created by a website outside the one you’re currently browsing. Third-party cookies are used primarily for online advertising and tracks user behaviour across different sites. They help advertisers create a profile of your interests, leading to more personalized advertising experiences.  

Why are they under the microscope? 

Because third-party cookies are used to track your browsing habits and the sites you visit, it poses a threat to online individual privacy. If you, as someone who uses the internet, doesn’t want your browsing activity to be tracked across multiple websites, third-party cookies are a worry. And as data privacy has become more and more prevalent as a serious public concern, third-party cookies have come under enormous scrutiny in the last few years. 

Before we get into what this means for you, let’s recap what’s happened so far…  

2019: The Mozilla Firefox browser blocks third-party cookies (affecting ~9% of global internet browsing). Google announces their Privacy Sandbox Initiative, which is intended to replace third-party browser cookies with a series of APIs, which would reduce the amount of data the Chrome browser collects about a user's activity.  

2020: Google first announces its plans to phase out third-party cookies on Chrome by early 2022. Apple’s Safari browser blocks third-party cookies (effecting ~16% of global internet browsing). 

2021: Google announces it is delaying the deprecation of third-party cookies on Chrome to mid-2023. Apple’s iOS 14.5 and 15 software updates removes the default sharing of a user’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), a device-level identifier that advertisers used to track individuals’ interactions with mobile advertising campaigns. Apple also releases their App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature that enables people to opt-out of apps tracking on their iPhone. Around 80%-90% of Apple users opt-out of tracking. In response to these changes, Facebook launches Conversions API (CAPI) allowing server-to-server data tracking, which does not rely on third-party cookies.  

2022: In response to industry feedback, Google delays the deprecation of third-party cookies on Chrome once again to the end of 2024.  


The latest news 

2023: The launch of Chrome 115 in July makes Google Privacy Sandbox’s relevance and measurement APIs generally available to all Chrome users, allowing developers to test these APIs with live traffic. Google officially announces its plans to disable third-party cookies for 1% of Chrome users in Q1 of 2024. The plan to completely deprecate third-party cookies in Chrome in Q4 2024 remains on track (this will affect ~65% of global internet browsing). 

What does this mean for our industry? 

The end of third-party cookies doesn’t mean the end of effective digital advertising. Instead, it poses an opening for innovative solutions to make the ecosystem a better place for consumers and advertisers alike. 

Industry alternatives to third-party cookies:  

  • Google’s Privacy Sandbox APIs – based on probabilistic/assumed data sorted into cohorts.  

  • Server-side technology – e.g. Google’s Server-side Tag Manager and Meta’s Conversion API (CAPI)

So, what does this mean for your digital campaigns with The Media Precinct?   

Key Platforms & Publishers:  

  • Meta – if not actioned yet, we can assist you with implementing CAPI between the Meta platform and your website. This can be used alongside your existing cookie-based conversion pixels as a second method of tracking, until cookies are fully deprecated at the end of 2024. Depending on your website domain, this can incur an annual cost.  

  • Google – Audience segments on Google are sourced from a combination of third-party cookies to capture and segment audiences and are based on search behaviour and engagement with Google-owned & operated products (i.e. first-party data). The Privacy Sandbox APIs from Google will gradually replace any third-party cookie data and measurement across Google before the end of 2024. Important to note that Google are testing these APIs continuously and will make updates on an ongoing basis. We predict that not all current Google features are going to be replaced, rather the methodology on its applications will shift to become more privacy-durable. As an example, many features such as conversion attribution, or frequency optimisation and management will be modelled based on aggregated & observable data rather than third-party cookies.  

  • Content Seeding – we work with a DSP, Zemanta, that relies on click-actions (as opposed to views that are cookie-based) and is not reliant on third-party cookies. Their parent company, Outbrain, also utilises their owned first-party data to power campaigns. As a result, we see little impact for content seeding campaigns.  

  • Audio & Podcasting – Spotify is a logged-in service, and their campaigns therefore utilise their own first-party data where users have opted in to be tracked.  

  • The Trade Desk – is a DSP that we use for Catch Up TV, Online Display, Video & Audio. The Trade Desk has established data partnerships with first, second & third-party data providers, some of which will be phased out with the deprecation of third-party cookies. We may see scale reduce and costs increase.  

Adapting to new strategies & processes:  

  • Use your first-party customer data as much as possible in paid advertising – almost all advertising platforms allow advertisers to upload first-party data to use in paid campaigns. This is the best way to maximise your first-party data to its fullest potential and target a relevant, qualified opt-in audience. It is easy to upload your first-party data segments into platforms, and we can assist with this. On some platforms, we can create look-a-like audiences from your first-party data to help extend scale, and we have seen some success with this so far.  

  • Shift (back) to contextual targeting – which leverages page content & keywords, instead of individual user data, and is an effective, privacy-compliant, cookie-free solution. “The Power of Context” report from Integral Ad Science (IAS), showed that ‘70% of consumers in the UK are more likely to recall an online ad when it runs alongside contextually relevant content’, demonstrating that contextual targeting is just as effective as specific audience buys.  

  • Focus less on targeting that focuses on the individual, to advertising that targets larger audience groupings and has less of a focus on specific behaviours as trigger-points. Byron Sharp, a Professor of Marketing Science and Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, which is the world’s largest centre for research into marketing, has said that ‘the traditional view that brands need to go out of their way to appeal to a sliver of their market’ is flawed. 

Final thoughts  

Digital marketing is changing, but there’s no need to panic. It’s worth remembering that this shift to better data privacy is for the greater good, and brands should accept and adapt to this largely positive societal movement. While the actual impact of a world without third-party cookies is still unknown, there are clear steps that we can start taking now from both a technology and process standpoint to ensure your business and your digital marketing is prepared for the future.  


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