In an increasingly digital world, third-party cookies have become a powerful tool for marketers. They allow companies to track and target customers on the web. But while third-party cookies can be helpful in understanding customer behavior and preferences, they also present some potential privacy risks. In this article, we'll look at what third-party cookies are, how they work, and examine some of the issues surrounding third-party cookies.

What are third-party cookies?

Third-party cookies are small pieces of data that websites store on a computer or a user's device. Companies use third-party cookies to track and understand what people do on different websites. This helps them to create marketing strategies, so they can show people ads and offers for products they might like.

Third-party cookies created by social media platforms collect data on a user's likes, interests, and interactions with other users. This information can then be used to target specific ads to users based on their behavior. For example, if a user frequently visits home decor websites and posts about interior design trends on social media sites, third-party cookies might show them targeted ads for furniture or paint colors.

While third-party cookies have many benefits for businesses, they also raise some concerns. For example, critics argue that third-party cookies can invade people's privacy and expose sensitive information about their online activities. There are also concerns about whether third-party cookies are really effective at tracking user behavior, as any site data gathered may not always be accurate or reliable. 

How do third-party cookies work?

When a user visits a website, the website's server sends a request to the user's browser to set a cookie. If the cookie is a first-party cookie, it is set by the website the user is visiting. If the cookie is a third-party cookie, it is set by a website different from the one the user is visiting.

When the user navigates to a different website, the new website can access the third-party cookie if it is from the same domain. This allows the third-party website to track the user's activity across multiple websites and potentially serve targeted ads based on the user's browsing history.

For example, if a user is visiting website A and website A has a banner ad from website B, website B could set a third-party cookie in the user's browser. This allows website B to track the user's activity on website A and potentially serve targeted ads to the user while they are on other websites.

Third-party vs. first-party cookies

The main difference between third and first-party cookies is that third-party cookies are set by a domain other than the one the user is visiting, while first-party cookies are set by the website that the user is currently viewing. Third-party cookies allow websites to track users across multiple domains and share data across different platforms. This allows third-party websites to serve targeted ads and collect user data for analytics purposes.

First-party cookies, on the other hand, are typically used for more basic website functions such as logging in or remembering settings and preferences. They do not provide third-party websites with access to users' browsing histories or personal information like third-party cookies can.

Read more about the differences between third and first-party cookies

Clearing and blocking third-party cookies 

Some users may want to block cookies, either for privacy reasons or to reduce the number of ads they see. This can be done by changing browser settings or using third-party tools such as ad blockers.

In Google Chrome, for instance, users can clear all cookies and delete cookies from a specific site. Users can also adjust the settings on their browser to block all cookies or just block third-party cookies in Chrome. Browsing in private or incognito mode is another way to stop cookies from being saved on your device.

As third-party cookies are used to collect data on a user's likes, interests, and interactions with other users for targeted advertising, many people are concerned about their privacy and the potential for their sensitive information to be exposed.

Privacy advocates have raised concerns that third-party cookies can be used to track users' online activities without their knowledge or consent. There have also been concerns that cross-site tracking with third-party cookies can lead to data breaches, where sensitive information is sold or shared without a user's knowledge or consent.

In recent years, new privacy laws have been enacted, which are making third-party cookie tracking more difficult. Many countries are now implementing data protection laws that require companies to obtain user consent before they can access and store cookies on users' devices, such as the GDPR law in the EU. Google has also announced it's phasing out third-party cookies, leading some marketers to declare the "death of third-party cookies." 

The golden era of owned channels

In a world without third-party cookies, there is a great opportunity for companies to invest in owned channels like their own website, as well as email and SMS marketing. Owned channels are a great way for businesses to reach new customers, keep current customers engaged, and increase their brand loyalty — all without breaching data laws. 

SMS is an extremely effective form of owned media, offering businesses multiple advantages over other forms of communication. It's cost-effective and gets great open rates, meaning that messages are highly likely to be read.

Emotive is an SMS platform specifically designed for ecommerce brands. Book a demo today.