1st Party vs. 3rd Party Cookies. What the FLoC!

If you’re looking to understand the key differences between first party and third party cookies, then you’re reading the right blog. I’m going to break down how they both work and the implications they each have on your business, whether you are a marketer, or you’re just working in online advertising in any capacity.

But before we get started and to answer the question we are often asked by our customers, our cookie tracking is a First Party Cookie and therefore not affected by the Google announcement of blocking Third Party Cookies by 2022.

Cookie! Yummy right?

Now we are not talking about the sweet kind of cookies. The one we are talking about is a piece of code that lives on your web browser, and it stores information in order to identify you to enhance your experience online.

Now, there is a difference between a first party and a third party cookie. At a technical level, they’re both very similar, they can do the same things, they have the same types of information. And they can both perform the same function, but where there are different is how they are used.

First party cookies

First party cookies, for example, are created by a domain or website to enhance your experience when you’re on the website so that if you return back to the website, there’s certain information that already lives there (like your username, your address, your payment information, if you added something to cart, if you have viewed certain pages) that saves you time and essentially gives you a better experience.

Now first-party cookies can also help to provide better product, service and content recommendations when you’re on the website. And it could also help to customise the content that you’ve been exposed to. Now we all agree these are general positive things.

Third party cookies

However, third party cookies are different as they are not placed by the domain or the website (i.e. your  domain doesn’t owns the cookie 100%), they’re actually placed by advertisers for the goal to advertise so that they can retarget you with personalized adverts based on your behavior online. As the name implies, third-party cookies are created and placed by third parties other than the website you are visiting directly.

And this is generally known as those ‘creepy’ ads that follow you around the internet and annoy you. Now due to recent data privacy scandals, with companies misusing and abusing data for consumers, there has been a stream of backlash that has caused regulation and laws to be introduced like GDPR, which require now websites to show a pop up once you log in, or once you get to the website so that they can let people know that their data is being used and how.

What is a third-party cookie? Some common uses include:

  • Cross-site tracking: the practice of collecting browsing data from numerous websites that details your activity
  • Retargeting: using search activity to retarget visitors with visual or text ads
  • Ad-serving: making decisions regarding the ads that appear on a website, deciding when to serve these ads, and collecting data

Here’s a table summarizing the key differences between first- and third-party cookies:

1st-party cookies 3rd-party cookies
Creation Originates from the main domain (your website). Opened on users’ web browsers. Usually set the cookies to your website using JavaScript code. Do not belong to the main domain. Opened on users’ browsers. They are loaded by third-party servers (such as ad servers) on websites.
Accessibility Work on the main domain (your website) only. 100% owned by you. Accessible on any website that loads third-party server’s code.
Browser support Supported by all browsers. However, users are always free to block cookies from their browser settings. Historically supported by all browsers but many are now blocking them due to increasing privacy concerns. Also, in the case of incognito mode, browsers do not load third-party cookies.

What’s Google up to?

So we’re moving into a future where there’s going to be a lot more transparency of how companies use consumer data for their own profitability. And at the center of this conversation in 2020 is Google as they recently announced that they will be phasing out third party cookies over the next two years, by 2022.

Although their announcement follows similar restrictions on other browsers – like Mozilla and Safari – in recent years, it is arguably the most significant, as they have the largest browser share.

Google Chrome owns about 64% of the market share when it comes to web browsers. And the decision to remove 3rd party tracking will have a sizable impact on billions of web searches and the ad tech landscape as a whole.

One of the parts of this evolving conversation is that Google have come up with a solution that’s called privacy sandbox that they believe it’s going to be a balance between privacy and tracking. But a lot of people calling it out, because essentially what it does is position Google to just a bigger share of the advertising dollars. This is because advertisers will be forced to place their money towards more Google products because they can’t track effectively.

So regardless of how the cards layout, there’s one thing that is for sure, the internet is changing. Hopefully it takes us to a more efficient and better internet that benefits all consumers and advertisers.

And as for FLoC, to understand what that’s all about have a read of this article https://www.theverge.com/2021/3/30/22358287/privacy-ads-google-chrome-floc-cookies-cookiepocalypse-finger-printing 

Have a read of What does the Cookie Law mean for Marketers? We asked John Mitchison, Director of Policy and Compliance at the DMA, to explain the legal side of things.


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