Should you block third-party cookies? Our advice on blocking cookies.
Everyone who has visited a website has seen the banner that asks you if you would like to allow cookies on your browser or not. If you choose to accept, they are stored in the browsers we use, but what are they, why do organisations use them on their web pages, and should we be worried about installing them? This blog will look at answering these questions, revealing not only how cookies affect us today, but also the role they will play in our digital lives in the future.
What are Cookies?
Cookies are small text files that websites place on your web browser when you visit them. These files are designed to allow websites to offer a tailored experience, which is achieved through the cookie files containing information about your browsing activity and preferences.
There are two main types of cookies – first-party and third-party cookies. First-party cookies are set by the website you are currently visiting, which stores information such as login status, items in your shopping cart, and user preferences for the site. Third-party cookies are typically non-essential cookies under data privacy laws that are generated by parties other than the website’s owner. They serve a multitude of purposes:
Personalised advertising – This functionality allows advertisers to track a user’s behaviour and interests across multiple websites, enabling them to produce more personalised advertisements. Both the user and the advertiser benefit from this as the advertisements are more likely to interest the user.
Analytics – The data provided to third parties helps them understand how visitors interact with their website, meaning that the website host can optimise the content and design to improve the visitors’ experience.
Cross-Site Functionality – Plugins and comment sections often rely on third-party cookies to function across different websites. This enables users to interact with these online services without the need for repeated authentication.
The Controversy Surrounding Third-Party Cookies
Despite some of the positives mentioned above, third-party cookies have come under some scrutiny in recent times. Here are some of the issues that have emerged:
Privacy – Cookies track users across the internet, creating detailed profiles of their online behaviour. This has been viewed by some to be an invasion of privacy. Targeted advertisements may be beneficial to users and businesses, but the gathering of personal information without consent is considered an unwelcome byproduct of third-party cookies.
Security – Hackers have targeted third-party cookies for malicious purposes. They are used to steal sensitive information and phishing attacks. Furthermore, vulnerabilities in third-party cookies can be targeted by malicious actors.
Consent – Many online users are unaware that they are accepting cookies when they are visiting a website. They may feel violated by the lack of transparency. Additionally, some websites make it difficult for visitors to select against the use of third-party cookies, furthering the feeling of infringement on their privacy.
This has led to a response from major web browsers, with major web browsers announcing their plans to phase out third-party cookies. Google has announced that their web browser, Chrome, will stop supporting third-party cookies in their browse and look to their new Privacy Sandbox project, which aims to provide advertisers with the data they need for advertisement targeting whilst preserving user privacy. They are not alone as Mozilla and Apple have made similar announcements regarding their respective browsers.
So, should we be blocking third-party cookies?
Before blocking third-party cookies, we should consider who we are and whether we need to install or block them.
For everyday users, being tracked across the internet can feel invasive, so the concern for our privacy is valid. Blocking cookies that monitor us may be the correct action to take if we are worried about how third parties are using this data. However, a personalised experience when visiting a website may benefit users, optimising the experience for the individual. Websites must be transparent and clear for visitors when presenting the option to allow or block cookies so that everyone can make the best decision for them.
Cookies provide marketers and businesses with vital information to understand how users behave on their websites, so finding alternative methods to gather data and provide personalised experiences will be crucial going forward once third-party cookies are phased out.
Finally, developers play a pivotal role in the third-party cookie debate. They must adapt to changing technologies and find ways to ensure websites remain functional and user-friendly while respecting privacy regulations and user preferences.
The Future of Cookies
The evolution of user tracking and data collection is ongoing, and third-party cookie’s role is everchanging. Whilst Google’s Privacy Sandbox should provide users with more privacy, it will inevitably inhibit businesses and marketers’ operations which rely on users’ data.
As we move forward, businesses must adapt and embrace these changes, respecting user privacy while still delivering personalised experiences. The future will likely witness a more harmonious balance between personalised marketing and safeguarding individual privacy rights. It's an exciting transformation and staying informed and adaptable will be key to thriving in this new era of digital advertising.
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