But what does this announcement really mean?
First, a bit of background about the technicalities of what we’re actually discussing. Cookies are small text files saved to your computer that typically persist even after you close a tab or your browser. The technology is very old (in Internet terms) but they’re still extremely pervasive and the best way to accomplish several backend functions online. Among other things, one example is cookies allow you to stay logged in to websites even after you leave.
Cookies are also an integral part of the digital advertising ecosystem.
First-Party vs Third-Party Cookies
Now that you understand cookies (at least conceptually), let’s dive into the two main types.
First-party cookies are created by the host domain – the domain the user is visiting.
This basically means the browser is able to remember key pieces of information, such as which items you add to shopping carts, your username and passwords, and language preferences.
Third-party cookies are those created by domains other than the one the user is visiting at the time, and are mainly used for tracking and online-advertising purposes. They also allow website owners to provide certain services, such as live chats.
Google, Facebook, Amazon, et. al typically use a combination of first & third-party cookies to help target digital advertising.
There’s a general narrative that seems to have taken hold:
- First-party cookies = good
- Third-party cookies = bad
This framing is far too simplistic, in my opinion.
“Privacy” & “tracking” are highly loaded terms that require a new framing in the Internet age. I highly encourage you to read this piece
by Ben Thompson that dives into the inherent tradeoffs, dissonance, and incorrect framing of these words.