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If you give a mouse a cookie

There’s a popular children’s book, If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, that chronicles the chain of events set into motion when a mouse is given a cookie. In the online world, an equally complex series of events is taking place as a result of withholding cookies. Of course, I’m not talking about the edible kind, but the digital kind: that bit of data that browsers use to identify us as we travel on the worldwide web. With the recent policy changes in digital privacy brought on by the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Global Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as well as browser changes, companies can no longer purchase third-party cookies as a commodity, but must now establish first-party relationships before they can store and access cookies.

What does this mean? Well, for consumers, it means a lot more log-in screens as companies look to establish first-party relationships online. But for the third-party online data providers, they’ve been caught with their hand in the cookie jar, and not just in the proverbial sense. Browser manufacturers like Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome), Microsoft (Edge), and Mozilla (Firefox), in response to CCPA and GDPR, will no longer allow third-party online data providers to re-sell the user data that can be gathered and inferred by having cookies share user-identity between websites.

Companies will need to have a first-party relationship with that consumer.

Why is this important? For one thing, it changes the way that companies can personalize online experiences. In the past, if you visited a site like Badminton Weekly (sorry, badminton enthusiasts, it’s not a real site), its publishers could have purchased knowledge about you such as demographics, if you prefer Oreos or Biscoff, age, income, and more via an identity cookie that allows this data to be aggregated and shared via common cookie identifiers from a third-party provider to customize your browsing experience. The cookie they purchased might contain information that you had been browsing for white shorts at Macy’s last week, so Badminton Weekly would know to serve an ad for white badminton shorts from one of their advertising clients. This system provided you with personalized ads, even with brands you didn’t have a relationship with, but it didn’t give you the choice to opt in to, or out of, that information sharing.

The decision to control cookie sharing on browsers impacts just about everyone:

  • For consumers, it means more control over how your personal data is used, but fewer personalized experiences—particularly with those brands where you don’t already have a personal relationship;
  • For third-party data providers, it means re-thinking their revenue model—and fast;
  • For companies like Google and Facebook that already have a first-party relationship with most consumers, it likely means even more ad revenue for them as they can share cookies with companies because of those relationships;
  • For online companies everywhere, it increases the urgency of building first-party relationships with online visitors.

That last point is an important one because companies have long depended on third-party cookie providers to personalize their online customer experiences. Without the ability to tap into the insights those cookies provide, companies will have no choice but to serve up generic ads and recommendations when new or unregistered visitors arrive. For online publishers, this can be particularly troublesome, as they earn a much lower CPM for generic ads versus targeted ads. And, for the consumer, it means irrelevant and un-personalized experiences.

Fortunately, companies don’t have to start building these first-party relationships blind. In fact, this is exactly where a customer data platform like Lytics excels, because it can help companies capture consent as part of the customer journey. For example, Lytics can tell you how many times a visitor has been on your site and, during the most opportune visit serve up a request to log into the site for a more personalized experience by offering a value exchange—even allowing them to log in with an existing email or social media ID. This accelerates the onboarding process and allows companies to leverage those “off-site” insights that can augment their on-site analytics.

While consumers are calling for stronger privacy measures, they still value experiences driven by content recommendations and personalization. The new browser rules are simply a bump in the road that companies can navigate around with the help of tools like Lytics. Our roadmap, however, remains the same: helping brands and consumers connect on their customer journey together.