As a prominent digital and creative design agency, we have a lot of conversations with our clients about the evolution of web cookies. So this post will give you the essential knowledge of web cookies.
Everyone has heard of web cookies; they affect everyone who spends time on the internet. Web cookies were introduced in 1994 as a small packet of data added to a computer to store information accessed by websites you visit. Privacy laws have since regulated and limited the data collection of cookies. Cookies will likely diminish in future, making way for other forms of targeted advertising.
At a simple level, web cookies contain information about each online store and website you visit to retain shopping cart items and account preferences and information.This is your private data, of course, and laws have been introduced to limit data collection and add transparency to what is collected about website visitors.But, it’s difficult to cover an entire generation of web cookies in just a few sentences. So let's go through the evolution of web cookies, from the introduction to their possible demise and potential successors.
The Introduction of Web Cookies
Web cookies were first introduced in 1994 by Lou Montulli, a Netscape employee.At the time, they were designed to store small pieces of information on a user's computer. This data could be accessed by the website that sets the cookie, allowing the site to "remember" certain information about the user, such as their login details or preferences.The technology already existed, but Lou designed a way to benefit commercial use.Subsequently, the use of web cookies has since evolved further. While initially they were used simply to store small bits of data on a user's computer, they are now used for various purposes.The most significant purpose is obtaining a user's data, tracking their history, and using the data gathered for targeted ads.Overall, web cookies have been operating for 28+ years now, so there's lots of history.Let's start with how web cookies were used in the early days.
Early Evolution of Web Cookies
In the early 2000s, web cookies began to be used for more than just simple data storage.As online advertising became more prevalent, cookies were used to track user behaviour to serve targeted ads.In the early 2000s, third-party cookies were introduced. These allowed advertisers to track users across different websites and show them targeted ads.This led to concerns about privacy and the use of web cookies. In 2003, the European Union introduced the e-Privacy Directive, which gave users the ability to opt out of having their data collected by cookies.This directive was later updated in 2009.The 2009 update required websites to get "explicit consent" from users before storing or accessing cookies on their devices.
Introduction of DNT
The evolution of web cookies continued in 2012 with the introduction of the Do Not Track (DNT) header.The DNT header is a setting that can be enabled in web browsers that tells the web cookie not to store any data about the user.Currently, no law in the United States requires websites to respect the DNT header. This is not the case in Australia.
Introduction of DNT in Australia
As of February 2015, however, a new law was passed that requires websites in Australia to obtain explicit consent from users before storing cookies on their devices. A similar law was introduced in the EU in May 2018.
The present state of web cookies
More recently, further introductions of legislation further governed the use of web cookies throughout global regions.The accessing and storing private data began to develop into wider data and privacy laws for different regions. Mostly centred around the EU, but also with regulations updated in Australia.
Web cookies in the EU
The EU has arguably been impacted more by cookie regulations. The law is called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It requires websites to get explicit consent from users before storing cookies on their devices.The law also gives users the right to know what data is being collected about them, access that data, and have that data erased when requested.
Web cookies in Australia
In Australia, the equivalent to this is called the APP and is applied to certain businesses who have a $3m (AUD) turnover or whose business is concerned with obtaining personal information or health services.This includes Brisbane and South East Queensland, where many of our clients are based. But we serve the wider areas of Australia, so click here to check out our wide range of services.Alongside this new regulation came the introduction of Privacy Policies.
Under the new law, websites must obtain consent from individuals before storing or accessing cookies on their devices. This is typically done through a pop-up banner when a user first visits a site. You've likely encountered these yourself.The banner explains what cookies are and why the site needs to use them. It also sets out the user’s options for managing cookies.For a while, some websites chose to use so-called 'implied consent' – in which a website 'assumes' that a user has consented to cookies simply by using their services or making a purchase.Many website visitors are pleased that the use of their data is highlighted and requires consent. Conversely, many users see this consent as a nuisance and a barrier to the website and the information they're seeking.The consent form has been designed to offer the user consent and understanding of how their data is used, but minimally so that while it informs the user, it does not impede their use and enjoyment.
As well as ensuring that they give their consent for cookies to be stored on their devices, users can also delete cookies that have already been set.Most web browsers provide options for managing cookies, and it is also possible to install browser extensions or plugins that can block cookies altogether.It is important for users to be aware of how their data is being collected and used and take steps to protect their privacy.
Future Evolution of Web Cookies
The evolution of web cookies is set to develop further as concern for online privacy grows.Cookies have long been used for targeted advertising to users. Using the collected data enables advertising agencies to target specific groups based on age, demographic and social groups.The future of ads based on cookies is changing for digital advertisers.
Removal of third party cookies
As of June 2021, Google dominated the search engine market with a staggering 92.47% share, according to statistics.So naturally, most focus is around Google Chrome, as this is also the most used browser.As we mentioned earlier, third party cookies are used predominantly by advertisers to help deliver targeted ads. As a leading Brisbane Google ads agency, we are constantly creating Google Ad campaigns, so we’re always up to date on changes to Google advertising.In December 2021, Google announced that it would remove all third-party cookies from its Chrome browser within two years.This will have a major impact on how targeted advertising works, as it will no longer be possible for advertisers to track users across the web.The announcement of the removal of third party cookies sent shockwaves through the advertising industry, as this has been a key and vital source of targeted advertising.The removal of these cookies means that advertisers will no longer track users across different websites and show them targeted ads.Now, advertisers will lose the ability to show highly personalised ads and will be forced to find other ways to reach their audience.
Future alternatives to third party web cookies
The removal of web cookies could lead to a decline in targeted advertising (and therefore ad revenue) and an increase in other methods such as first-party cookies or fingerprinting.First party cookies are created by the website you are visiting and can be used for a variety of purposes, including advertising. These are set when you visit a website and can only be read by that website.Simply put, fingerprinting side steps obtaining your data, and focuses tracking based on your computer's data. It's a technique that allows websites to track users even if they delete their cookies or use incognito mode.While fingerprinting is not as accurate as third-party cookies, it’s the next best option without obtaining the actual user data. And it can still be used to great effect – plus, it’s also evolving and improving as advertising agencies work on optimising the use of fingerprinting.It works by collecting information about the user's device and browser, which can then be used to create a unique identifier.We may also see a shift towards more privacy-focused browsers such as Mozilla Firefox or Brave. Apple has also been working on privacy changes to their Safari browser.
Google and advertising revenue
Although Google is making third party web cookie changes, it's been driven by regulatory pressure as much as anything else.So while users will have more control over their data, the lack of third-party cookies may impact Google's global advertising revenue.It’s not in Google's interests to remove cookies as many websites use them for essential functions, such as login or shopping baskets; this could indirectly affect ad revenues as ads become less targeted. Therefore, ad rates are less valuable.For this reason, Google wants the impact to be minimal. And in our view, their 2023 deadline may likely be pushed out further to allow more time to develop alternative systems of equal ad revenue value.
What The Future Holds For Web Cookies
The demise of third-party cookies is not the end of targeted advertising, but it is likely to herald a new era of privacy consciousness online.We can expect to see more use of first-party data and an increase in alternative tracking methods such as website private membership signup, or fingerprinting.There is also likely to be a move toward more privacy-friendly advertising models, such as contextual advertising – so based more on the page's content as an indicator of its type of visitors.Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain – cookies have come a long way since their humble beginnings.It's safe to say that the cookie landscape will continue to change and evolve in the years to come as we move towards a more privacy-centric internet.As web cookies continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see how these changes affect the way we browse the internet and our data privacy. And we’re excited to take advantage of these new forms of emerging advertising routes.Here at Anchor Digital, we keep track of what's coming down the line to better advise and serve our customers. If you're looking for online services with a company with the best understanding of what the digital future holds, give us a call today, we’d love to hear from you.