Death of the Cookie: 2014 Edition

cookie computer

When someone says the word cookie, inevitably everyone thinks about chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and maybe even Christmas.  However, in this case we are talking about the online tracking device that may be on its way out.  Nearly a year ago, we wrote a blog post detailing how cookies affect your individual business listing and call tracking ability.  This time around, we’ll discuss why consumers are against the tracking code and who stands to benefit from their diminishing existence.

What is a Cookie?

Cookies are small pieces of code that websites drop onto your browser as you surf the web.  They record what sites you have looked at.  Online advertising companies use this information to customize your online experience with ads generated off your browsing history.

There are two different types of cookies online:  first-party and third-party.  Almost every website serves a cookie, especially if you have to log into it.  Take online banking as an example.  The cookie reminds the bank’s website that you are logged in correctly.  If it were not there, the site would forget that you logged in and lock you out of your account.  Essentially, the web does not work with these first-party cookies.

The third-party cookies are currently under threat of extinction.  These cookies are served by other companies through the webpage you are looking at.  Going back to the banking example, the bank’s website might allow dozens of third parties to drop cookies onto your browser.  When you go to another site after the bank’s, those cookies will signal to other advertisers that a person with a recent history of checking their bank account has arrived.

Who is Attempting to do What to Stop Third-Party Cookies?

Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla (makers of the Firefox browser) are all planning to launch browsers with default “Do Not Track” settings.  These settings will be rigged to reject cookies or to signal the user does not wish to be tracked.

Paul Cimino, VP/GM of Brilig Digital Data Solutions at Merkle, said that his company found the number of machines you can see on the internet versus the number that you can cookie has been decreasing over the past three years to around 50%.

Much of this has to do with the fact that mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.) cannot be cookied, and these have become a preferred way to “surf the net”.

Why are Cookies such a Taboo Subject?

In their simplest form, cookies are a breach of privacy for internet users.  Although they technically do not give away any personally identifying information about you, they do give advertisers an idea of what your interests are including what you are shopping for, where you live and into what demographics you fit.

The more web users who look at the internet with third-party cookies turned off, the fewer users there are for advertisers to target.

Privacy advocates hate cookies because they carry information about what you search for on the web.  Organizations like the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Abine have anti-cookie stances because, as EPIC puts it, “a cookie is a mechanism that allows a website to record your comings and goings, usually without your knowledge or consent.”

Who Stands to Benefit from a Cookie-less Internet?

James Lamberti, vice president of the device recognition firm AdTruth, says the upshot here is that the data companies get from first-party cookies will be of much higher value as the third-party cookie becomes obsolete, and members of the online advertising ecosystem who do not have the first-party data could be left out in the cold.  This becomes a “rich get richer” proposition in the grand scheme of things.

“This could create a situation where you could have a couple of players, namely Google and Facebook, just take over and have so much power where it’s not good for the industry,” said Lamberti.

How Does This All Apply to ResortsandLodges.com?

When shopping for a unique travel experience, leisure travelers typically visit a website multiple times.  If these consumers are accessing sites from different channels like a smartphone or tablet, there are no cookies to track where they have already been.  Ultimately, this decreases the perceived lead conversion rate for a given property.

Another effect seen at ResortsandLodges.com, which is referenced in last year’s “Death of the Cookie” post, has to do with Phonalytics, our state-of-the-art call tracking system.  Cookies enable us to direct a tracking number to a property’s website when they reach the site through ResortsandLodges.com.

If travelers are making multiple visits to a site, they may bypass our site and head directly to a property website.  Without these cookies, we are unable to re-direct the user back to the proxy site (your site with the tracking in place), and the transaction occurs without being attributed to a specific advertisement that generated the booking.

Based on the data, an argument could be made that nearly 42% of calls being generated by ResortsandLodges.com to our partner properties are not able to be tracked or reported on.

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