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Cookie Alternatives Compared to User Privacy Concerns

By: McKenna Timoneri    June 29, 2021

The personal information provided by users online allows brands to create personalized ads and other targeted material, but what will happen when Google’s initiative to move away from third-party cookies takes effect? This data source has previously been a large factor in how brands build digital identities for customers that contribute to personalized ads. Third-party cookies leave consumers open to the hidden collection and use of their information, which consumers are calling out.

With consumer demand for privacy standards to be met, the industry is searching for ways to adapt, with Google’s Privacy Sandbox leading this digital movement. Even with such drastic changes that advertisers will need to navigate, there are many other solutions besides cookies that advertisers can use to gain audience insights.

Potential cookie alternatives include:

• Universal IDs: Some may already be aware of Apple IDFA and Android AAID as examples of Universal IDs that enable identifying users without sharing personal information. This solution allows advertisers to track consumer data to be used to create customized ads, without requiring personal details. A big issue with this solution is that many universal IDs plan to increase reach to users with Single Sign-On (SSO), which keeps consumers in the dark on who they are sharing their data with, and how that data is being used.
• Hashed Emails: These unique codes attached to emails provide a viable alternative to cookies; however, this solution leaves quite a security risk for users. Although this solution can successfully attach useful identifiers to consumers for the purpose of data collection by marketers, the standard algorithms used in hashed emails leave users open to privacy violations and a general lack of protection.
• Identity-Based Encryption: Possibly the safest alternative for users, encrypted identifiers involve a sender using a public key that is a unique identifier, such as a user’s email address. The sender can use the unique identifier of the receiver to generate a public key and encrypt the data, which can also be accessed by the receiver with a corresponding private key and the help of a trusted third-party server keeping the information secure. This secures the line between sender and receiver and keeps control of data in the advertiser’s and users’ corner.
• Fingerprinting: Although transparency and consent are difficult in this case, fingerprinting creates a synthetic ID in place of a cookie. If the goal is to protect consumer privacy, fingerprinting may not be the way to go, given that users typically do not even know that their data is being collected through this action. Although technically a solution, this alternative has a high risk of worsening trust with consumers.

Many of these alternatives still have major privacy concerns for users and pose a more difficult data collection process for advertisers. There are many other cookie alternatives that advertisers will likely be forced to explore in the industry’s post-cookie environment, but the real challenge will be maintaining a competitive edge in media while balancing consumer protection and innovative data collection processes.