Cookies, those small pieces of data sent by a website and stored on the user’s computer by their web browser, perform many essential functions on the modern web. They can be used to verify the account a user is logged in with, record the webpages a user has visited, retain information previously entered into a form, and more.
Third-party tracking cookies, often simply called third-party cookies, can be used to compile long-term records of a user’s browsing history and build up a profile of their interests, preferences and habits – and have formed the backbone of the digital marketing and advertising industry, enabling things like targeting, retargeting, behavioural marketing, programmatic advertising and much more.
However, they’re also seen by many consumers and privacy advocates as an invasion of privacy, as they don’t originate from a website that the user has proactively visited or interacted with (hence, ‘third party’).
In the past year alone, three of the biggest web browsers on the internet – Safari, Firefox and Chrome – have taken steps to block or phase out the use of third-party tracking cookies by default. Authorities including the ICO and CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) have also published guidance or laid down rulings that explicitly state that the way many websites go about obtaining consent to set third-party cookies is against the law. And the signs suggest this situation is only going to get worse for marketers and advertisers.