Browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox and Apple’s Safari already have eliminated third-party cookies in response, and now, Google is following suit by eliminating third-party cookies from its Chrome browser by 2022.
Publishers using the Chrome browser will now have to adjust the code on third-party cookies to reveal how they track users across the web. If they don’t, Google will delete them.
The move has left digital marketing professionals scrambling to strategize the continued collection of consumer data. This article breaks down what the Google cookies update means for healthcare marketers.
Why Google is phasing out cookies
Third-party cookies allow marketers to track the browsing history and behavior of consumers, and have long fueled programmatic advertising, marketing and ad targeting.
Google’s initiative to remove cookies aims to create open standards for digital tracking. It first announced the project last August, dubbing it Privacy Sandbox. On Jan. 14, the search engine giant announced it would phase out support for third-party cookies on Chrome by 2022.
Google’s impact outweighs theirs tremendously, with 69% of desktop browser market share and 40% of mobile browser market share. Whether you consider it corporate altruism, a self-serving effort or somewhere in between, the decision is a big deal.
The Google cookies update explained
Ultimately, Google plans to eliminate third-party cookies entirely in two years, causing digital marketers to rethink the way they track and sell to consumers. The changes to Chrome will affect anyone with a website, including brands, agencies and traditional news publishers.
Website owners will be required to employ “SameSite,” a backend protocol allowing cookies to be designated for various uses. Publishers must also make sure websites are secure, or Google will delete their cookies.
Chrome won’t automatically block cookies, but the code change limits their use to HTTPS connections. The company said in a blog post that segregating third-party cookies is a foundation for more substantial updates, such as precise browser cookie controls for users.
Justin Silberman, VP of product and video at DailyMotion, told AdAge that Google is protecting the consumer with SameSite and its decision to phase out third-party cookies.
“The market has taken third-party cookies to an extreme,” Silberman told DailyMotion. “There are companies that drop hundreds of pixels on websites and they do that to collect audiences. But the reality is, in the future, that stuff just isn’t going to be a business anymore.”
What it means for healthcare marketers
The implications of user data collection are massive in healthcare, which ranked low in Gallup’s most recent public sentiment rankings. For years, the unauthorized collection and sale of protected health information (PHI) and personally identifying information (PII) has been enabled by third-party cookies.
As cookie restrictions tighten, however, marketers have devised workarounds like fingerprinting, which combines data to identify users based on their device, time zone and operating system. Google derides fingerprinting as “invasive” and “opaque,” and the cookies update in part is a response to those and similar methods.
Luckily, healthcare marketers are relatively well-prepared for a world without cookies.
Pharmaceuticals and healthcare providers already work with various constraints within Google Ads that are specific to healthcare, according to Aaron Clifford, SVP of Marketing at Binary Fountain.
“Healthcare will be less impacted by this change than other industries who rely heavily on cross-site cookies for advertising,” Clifford said. “What remains unchanged is the importance for brands to develop loyal followers by consistently providing valuable content that serves the interests and objectives of the followers.”
In an op-ed for MM&M, Clare Kirlin, director of marketing for Meltmedia, said healthcare marketers will need to adapt to the changing search engine landscape.
Kirlin recommends considering how impactful programmatic data is on your core business objectives and investing in contextual ad placements, which are especially positive for healthcare brand favorability. Brands shouldn’t neglect their owned media, she said – incentivize users to exchange personal information for valuable content, and treat their data as a precious resource.
Of course, few healthcare organizations have the internal resources to stay abreast of ever-changing internet protocols, making third-party vendors a valuable asset. Specialist partners have the insight and expertise to anticipate these sorts of Google updates before they affect your bottom line.
We don’t know exactly how browser cookie restrictions will change healthcare marketing, but it won’t necessarily be for the worse. With healthcare’s reputation burdened by incidents of poor privacy protection, standing behind user privacy policies can signal credibility to a wary public.
Google remains confident that privacy-preserving and open-standard mechanisms like the Privacy Sandbox can sustain a healthy, ad-supported web while rendering third-party cookies obsolete. With a countdown clock of two years, healthcare marketers would be wise to check their websites on Chrome and stay ahead of the updates.
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