First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies 101

Has this happened to you? You search online for an item or website and then all of a sudden once you leave the site you begin seeing ads for that item all over the place.  It’s like the item is following you throughout cyberspace or someone read your mind and knows you were just looking for that very thing. You are not going crazy; you have very likely just experienced behavioral target advertising online. Advertisers are able to access this data via tiny text file called a cookie. Cookies can be embedded in ads or from the address bar of a site and stored temporarily on a user’s hard drive to track their behavior online. First party cookies are site-specific, meaning they come from sites the users visited. It remembers when you return to a previously visited site so you don’t have to login every single time or start a new game or shopping cart. For advertisers, it increases ad effectiveness by narrowing ad reach tailored to user preferences and who are more likely to want it. It’s also an analytics tool aiding marketers in gathering data about who visits the site and how often.

Websites can determine what types of advertising to serve based on the user’s Internet behavior. Factors like what sites you visit the most frequently, online stores you’ve shopped at and items you’ve purchased are used to deliver relevant ads. A common advertising practice is to utilize third-party cookies which take the cookie from a first-party site and use that information to deliver ads. Most users are fine with first-party cookies; it’s the third-party cookies that leave a bad taste in the mouth of some.  Third-party cookies are served via ad networks and often come from sites the user never visited.  Some users find it invasive and that privacy issue has become so central that it has become law in Britain and was recently reintroduced in the US Senate. Firefox announced they will block third-party cookies in their upcoming version.  At this time Google Chrome and Internet Explorer have made no plans to follow suit.  What are your thoughts on this topic?

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