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Tracking Cookies: A Brief History and Complex Future

2
min read

Clare Kirlin - Channel Marketing Manager
Clare Kirlin

Since their emergence in 1995, cookies have become as integral to the browser experience as the internet itself.

For all the controversy they've provoked, cookies are actually pretty simple. They're tiny text files generated by websites to identify and remember users. Cookies serve a number of benign purposes, from user authentication to bandwidth conservation.  

The cookie issue becomes fraught when we consider the distinct types of tracking cookies used in advertising.

  • A first-party tracking cookie is accessible only to the website that generated it (the “first party”). When a user visits www.example.com, the domain’s servers create and store a cookie on the user’s machine. The cookie allows www.example.com to identify and track the user when they interact with www.example.com, but no other sites.
  • A third-party tracking cookie is accessible to parties other than the domain that generated it (“third parties”). When a user visits www.example.com, a third party’s servers create and store a cookie on the user’s machine. The cookie allows third parties such as advertisers, social media sharing tools, and analytics platforms to identify and track the user when they interact with www.example.com, and any other site or application that accepts the third party’s cookie.

Given that cookies collect user data (or “persist,” in developer lingo) until they expire, they can reveal a lot about a user’s online habits. Their so-called lifespan is determined by a number of factors: browser standards, domain settings, user settings, and even legal regulations like CCPA and GDPR. As privacy concerns have risen, cookie lifespans have been reduced from years, to months, to hours. 

On January 14, Google announced its plans to phase out third-party cookies from the popular Chrome browser — joining the major players who comprise nearly 100% of the global browser market in a move to fundamentally transform how brands and users connect. 

The issue is especially complicated in healthcare, where consumer privacy and data security have profound implications. In our latest article for Medical Media & Marketing, we explain what the hype is all about and give you five tips to prepare for a world without third-party cookies.

Check it out: "Google burns the cookies (and what it means for healthcare marketing)."