SameSite Cookies & Data Collection: Chrome 80 For Digital Marketers

March 23, 2020

In February of 2020, Google began rolling out version 80 for it's enormously popular browser, Chrome, and it contains updates to fundamentally change the way that cookies can be used to track user data. Marketers are used to enjoying broad access to user activity via their cookies, but Google has chosen to respond to privacy concerns among its Chrome users and set a new precedent for an internet in which users' data is more controlled and secure.

Google has made it clear that their ultimate goal is to phase out third party cookies altogether by 2022, in the interest of protecting users' personal information and how it can be accessed. Because Chrome is the most widely used web browser, they are rolling these changes out over time in order to evaluate results and give developers a chance to react to this fundamental change in data collection and distribution.

Prior to Chrome 80, Cookies could be set by third parties and used to access a user's data across multiple sites, unless they were secured individually by the developer. Following the Chrome 80 update, Cookies are secured by default. Chrome reads unlabelled cookies as "SameSite=Lax" and only allows them to be set if the browser URL domain and the cookie domain match, which is a first party cookie.

Third party cookies, on the other hand, must be explicitly labelled with "SameSite=None" and must be labelled as "Secure" so that the cookie can only be set and transferred over HTTPs. This gives users transparency into whether or not data is being collected by or for third parties, and assurance that such data will be transmitted securely. Cookies that are not labelled as such will not be set by Chrome at all.

Digital Marketers have a complicated relationship with user privacy, as user information is so valuable not only to perform research for marketing strategies, but also to track attribution and show value to clients. Chrome 80 presents a new challenge for marketers' ability to access and track user data to demonstrate contributions, target new audiences, and differentiate returning customers from those whom we are still trying to win over.

The most important part of working with advertising platforms to ensure the continued success of your campaigns is to ensure that your partners are working within the framework provided by Chrome 80 and beyond.

Here are three strategies to continue targeting audiences:

  • Ensure that your web developers are setting the SameSite attribute of their cookies to "None" and specifying the "Secure" label so that the cookies won't be rejected by Chrome. If you are a reputable partner who is accessing user data securely and properly, without nefarious intentions, this update may create more work for you, but it will not cripple your ability to work effectively.
  • Refocus on first party data. While third party data has been an easy source of information to pull from for years, many businesses are overlooking the vast amounts of first party data that they already have access to from their customer base. This includes information that is entered on order forms, queries for information, your social media followers and their available information, and even what clients tell you over the phone.
  • Data sharing to extend our reach. Most large enterprises already own vast amounts of client data, but where does that leave smaller businesses? One of the most promising options over the next few years is data sharing, thanks to the advent of decentralized data storage. Not only can data be made accessible to others, but the data's owner can retain their ownership while allowing partners to query and access parts of the data without compromising sensitive information. It is likely that these types of solutions will become a major player in data acquisition over the next decade.

The Chrome 80 update, and its contributions to the ongoing efforts to increase security for internet users, serves as a good reminder to digital marketers that the ease of access to user data that we have grown accustomed to during the early stages of internet viability is going to change. The market is responding to user demand for privacy and third party transparency in data collection and use. This trend in data collection demonstrates that despite changes in technology, building a trustful relationship with your customer is still the best long term strategy for businesses in 2020 and beyond.

Fortunately, viable alternatives to third party cookies already exist and are becoming stronger each year. At excelerate, we are continually improving our processes and proactively responding to changes in our field of expertise in order to provide our clients with the highest quality services.