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Cookie Conundrum: Losing Third-Party Trackers Can Invade Your Privacy

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Third-party cookies may disappear in 18 months, but will that achieve Google’s stated intentions of creating a “more privacy-first web”?

Chris Matty doesn’t think so.

He even believes that the death of the invasive little trackers could paradoxically make our online identities less secure.

And he believes the motivations of Apple and Google, which have advocated an end to this form of passive surveillance, are motivated by goals that are less altruistic than they may seem.

Matty is the founder and chief revenue officer of Versium, a business-to-business omnichannel marketing company that profiles online visitors without using cookies. Instead, it collects data from various third-party sources in a California Consumer Privacy Act-compliant process and then uses deterministic algorithms to essentially make an educated guess about visitor identities.

Matty believes the end of third-party cookies will be a windfall for tech giants whose reach spans multiple properties.

The losers will be everyone else.

Independent

With third-party cookies out of the picture, marketers will be forced to double the data they collect on their own web properties via first-party cookies, which will still be with us.

Those are the trackers that you are allowed to install on your computer when you arrive at a website and see one of those “this site uses cookies” messages.

The thousands of small website owners who now rely on third-party cookies to identify visitors will have to start collecting more data for themselves.

That means more registration pages, pay walls, and prompts to enter information about yourself.

As a result, “losing cookies will actually reduce privacy,” Matty says. “Publishers will have to start using gated logins, so they’re recording an email address.”

This is not a problem for the few giants with a huge web footprint.

Think about this: How often do you log into Google or Facebook? Almost never.

Once you sign up with Google, the company can track you through its search engines, email service, office productivity applications, media sites, and other outposts in its realm.

Theoretically, it can also track you on other properties, as long as you’re logged in.

However, independent ad networks won’t be able to access this information anytime soon, so Google and Facebook will become even more powerful online ad brokers.

Meanwhile, independent sites will be pressured to more tightly lock down their content to encourage registration.

The result is less free information, more walled gardens, and a greater need for people to keep track of usernames and passwords for all the places they visit.

“It will cost marketers more because [the cost per thousand visitors] will grow,” says Matty. “The cost of marketing will rise as information will be controlled by fewer companies.”

An unpopular alternative

Google has proposed an alternative, called Federated Learning of Cohorts, that replaces third-party cookies with anonymized information about groups of people stored in the browser.

Not everyone thinks that’s such a good idea.

“That approach would put the browser at the center of the ad comparison, and it’s no coincidence that Google Chrome is the world’s most popular browser,” wrote Adam Tanner, an author of two books on online privacy, in a recent article in Consumer Reports.

Versium and many other identity technology companies are finding ways to reverse engineer identities without using cookies or compromising privacy.

The company collects data from multiple sources about people who have consented to share it and then uses predictive algorithms to infer identities.

Matty calls this technique “match logic.” There are literally hundreds of match codes that we can assign with great confidence,” he said. “We can increase match rates from 10% to 90%.”

In a B2B context, this is valuable when reconciling personal and business email addresses. About 70% of LinkedIn profiles are associated with personal email addresses; it can be a shot in the dark to associate them with a list of business addresses.

Matty says adding third-party opt-in data can solve most of those mysteries.

If a marketer has a personal email address, it can be matched with a business address by taking into account other data points, such as a home address and the nearby population of people with similar names.

“We can find a physical address and infer how far they are from a company and conclude that the person works at that company,” Matty says. “There are literally hundreds of match codes that we can assign with great confidence.”

This means that the end of cookies could cause an explosion in big data analytics. And guess who owns the most popular suite of analytics tools in the cloud?

Yes, it’s Google.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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