Google May Be Cooking Up a Cookie-Replacement
What can replace the much-maligned cookie? A new report says that Google is working on an anonymous tracking technology to do just that.

According to a report this week in USA Today, the search and advertising giant is currently working on a technology called AdID, or anonymous identifier for advertising. The paper quotes an unidentified person "familiar with the plan,” who said that Google is in the process of securing support from advertisers, relevant government agencies and consumer watchdog organizations.

Controls for Users

If Google is readying such technology, the idea of relying on a tech giant for their tracking sends shivers up the spines of advertisers, because Google could change any aspect in a second -- and it controls about one-third of all online advertising.

The USA Today report, however, indicates that AdID could be an alternative to cookies, not a replacement, and it would provide users with the ability to limit tracking through browser settings. If Google does move forward, it may want to change the name so as to avoid confusion with Ad-ID, "the industry standard for identifying ad assets across media platforms."

Google’s AdID would automatically reset the browser specs annually, and a user could employ a private AdID for private browsing. Users could also control which advertisers get their tracking info, and participating advertisers would have to agree to certain guidelines. In response to its story, Google told USA Today that, while it has “a number of concepts in this area, they’re all at very early stages.”

What’s After Cookies?

The cookie, a small amount of text with an identifying code that is placed on a person’s computer, is certainly ready for a better replacement. First-party cookies, installed by a website you visited, have received somewhat better treatment than third-party cookies, which are deposited by advertisers and track you around the web. Third-party cookies are the reason that, if you search for a given product, ads for that product seem to show up on many of the sites you subsequently visit.

In August, industry research firm Forrester released a report looking at what’s next after cookies. Although many consumer groups have raised privacy issues about cookies and the trail of user behavior that they can convey to marketing companies, a pressing practical problem for marketers is simply the need to follow a consumer across multiple channels -- a smartphone, a laptop, and a tablet, usually throughout the same day.

Customer relationship management across channels is a major emphasis these days in online marketing, but following a specific user consistently is a major challenge using cookies. Forrester said that, by the end of 2012, 42 percent of online adults in the U.S. were such “perpetually connected consumers,” and they expect to have contextually-appropriate information as they need it.

Statistical Inferences

Cookies are facing other obstacles as well. Apple’s mobile platforms and its Safari browser, for instance, block third-party cookies, although that company issued it own advertising technology for iOS in 2012. Mozilla announced earlier this year that it was blocking third-party cookies by default for its Firefox browser, but it suspended this step in June because of errors in identifying third-party cookies. While first-party cookies are not blocked by platforms, they cannot migrate between devices.

Forrester did not have a clear solution to this dilemma, but it pointed to such developments as person-based targeting that uses identifying information like an email address, or statistical inference engines that make educated guesses based on such data points as devices or browser characteristics.

Image courtesy of Gita Kulinitch Studio (Shutterstock)