In the digital media world, adapting to change is standard practice. The landscape is volatile, but the severity of fluctuation typically falls somewhere between tolerable and irritating. However, on rare occasions, the advertising industry is confronted with seismic changes, leaving many digital media pros scratching their collective heads. In announcing plans to overhaul their respective privacy practices, tech giants Apple and Google have once again managed to cause just such a response.

Fortunately, for the benefit of our clients, digital experts at Anson-Stoner quickly made sense of this fundamental shift. Industry professionals can expect ongoing challenges in digital marketing, mostly because the recent adjustments now hinder the ability to track individual user data. Specifically, Google is removing third-party cookies from Chrome, and Apple’s iOS 14.5 update requires that apps ask users to consent to data tracking. Ironically, Apple’s sudden concern for their users’ privacy is expected to cost both Google and Facebook billions in advertising revenue.

In addition to being a financial inconvenience to people whose interests align with Mark Zuckerberg’s, iOS 14.5 could potentially create a fear of data tracking among uninformed publics. Experts predict many Apple users will choose to opt out of data tracking, which is problematic when it comes to targeting and conversion tracking. Currently, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update is available for download, but Google’s is still in the development stages. Google plans to remove third-party cookies from their Chrome browser by the end of January 2022.

If you’re unfamiliar with techie jargon, please note that cookies in this context are of the persistent online variety, not the sugary baked goods. These cookies contain text files with small pieces of data—such as a username and password—that are used to identify your computer as you use a network. Here’s a helpful synopsis of what cookies do:

  1. Session management. Cookies allow websites to recognize users and recall their individual login information, preferences, and interests such as sports, news, or politics.
  2. Personalization. Customized advertising is the main way cookies are used to personalize individual sessions. Users view certain items or parts of a site and cookies use their data to help build targeted ads they might enjoy.
  3. Tracking. Online shopping is a great example of how websites can use cookies to improve user experience. Tracking allows sites to suggest goods a user might like based on previously viewed items and keeps the user’s already-selected items in a virtual cart while they continue shopping.

Importantly, this will impact only third-party cookies, not all cookies. First-party cookies are set by a site and offer full tracking capabilities, but they are readable only by the site that created them. By contrast, third-party cookies can be read and written by multiple sites and are used by Facebook, Google and other AdTech companies that track the sites you visit on the web to build a profile of your interests.

Ultimately, none of this will usher in the end of digital advertising; it just means there will be changes to the way it’s performed. The major impact this has on digital advertisers is that they will no longer be able to rely on cookies to target users. Moving forward, individual consumers will be anonymously grouped by shared interests, not by targeted demographics derived from personal information and collected data. At Anson-Stoner, as always, our digital team is prepared for these updates and ready to tackle any challenges they may bring.