The Cookie Apocalypse: Our Privacy Panacea Or Big Tech Biding Time?

The Cookie Apocalypse: Our Privacy Panacea Or Big Tech Biding Time?
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George Glover [pictured] is the CEO of Social Garden. In this piece, he takes a look at the ‘cookie apocalype’ and predicts how certain tech giants will respond to the coming changes.

Brace yourselves, because The Cookie Apocalypse is here. But before you put your pantry into stage 4 lockdown, I’m talking about the online cookies that track you, so it’s only your data and privacy – not your snacks – on the line.

If you’re one of the many Australians who owns an iPhone – which you probably are, given more than 50 percent of the population uses iOS1 – then you’ve no doubt seen a recent notification alerting you to changes in permissions around background data tracking. And, if you’ve seen that notification, chances are Big Tech no longer has access to the juicy data that powers their targeted ads, tailored messages, and sponsored posts about products you swear you’ve only thought about and never actually mentioned out loud…

But, as people around the world are sleeping a little easier knowing it’s now a lot harder for Big Tech peek over their shoulder, it’s worth asking, is this the privacy panacea we think it is?

Apple has made a huge play in preventing the background tracking of data via third parties, in a move towards “democratised data” – where people can freely access the data they need, while protecting their own.

The recent iOS update drove a seismic shift in the way we control our data, leaving people feeling increasingly empowered in the wake of recent infamous privacy breaches, scandals, and question marks over invasive data collection.

So where does this leave big brands who depend on the exchange of, and access to, our data? And how will the industry need to evolve? How can smaller brands and digital agencies react to this change and ensure they don’t get left in the dark?

As the overwhelming majority of savvy millennials continue to opt-out of background data tracking on iPhones – significantly limiting the huge pool of data and targeting opportunities advertisers used to have unfettered access to – conscious data capture for brands has never been more critical.

We have to go back to basics: focusing on meaningful first-party data collection as opposed to third-party data mining.

Apple’s big move could well be the first step on the way back to the way advertising should be – the consumer sees a relevant ad, because somewhere along the way they consciously told the advertiser that their product is relevant.

Without a doubt, advertisers and brands will have to work harder for those insights; through providing value and impact to the consumer, while the customer will inevitably retain more power over what ads they are exposed to.

Think of your personal data as your big tech currency – without it, there’s less advertising spend, less targeting and less money – so, if you’re going to hand over that information, you need to get something in return, right?

I think we’ll see a more deliberate relationship between advertiser and consumer – not just looking at a pair of shoes online then seeing them pop up six times on your Instagram Stories – more of an active exchange, where the customer gets something in return for their data.

At Social Garden, we’re responding to the shift by building platforms that can offer a value exchange to unlock the power of first-party data, whether it be through an online form to sign-up for a document you need, a registration for an early invitation to an online sale, or a “click to subscribe” for regular deals delivered by email. And while we have to work harder to earn that data, the benefit is, we can own it directly.

We’ll see a return to nurturing existing and repeat audiences rather than constantly churning through one-time click frenzies. So not only will the data value exchange be critical, but so will the value of the product that’s being sold – because brands will need to rely on returning customers more than ever.

First-party data will become the next frontier, and brands will need to build platforms that continually build and deliver value over time, whether that be through free content, research or special offers.

The bigger players like Facebook and Google will probably respond by placing more focus into delivering value for consumers in-platform, as they won’t be able to track customers as effectively once they leave the Facebook or Google ecosystems.

Unfortunately, many smaller brands who don’t adapt won’t survive.

For Apple, this all feels very convenient – they’ve created systems and software to restrict external apps, but they’re still free to operate as they please on their own hardware.

You might get a notification to turn off third-party data tracking, but you may not realise that first-party data capture is on by default on all iPhones – meaning you have to hunt that setting down to get back in control.

Could this pave the way for Apple to enter the lucrative advertising market, leveraging its endless supply of top-quality first-party data that it now has unrivalled access to?

For Facebook, I think we’ll see a more significant shot-in-the-arm for its mechanisms that support smaller brands – Marketplace, Shopping, Ads, etc. – so that it can have greater access to consumer data from users spending more time on its platform.

Personally I can’t wait to see what happens next in The Cookie Apocalypse – Apple has been talking about data and privacy for years, but no one really knew how it would work and where we’d end up.

It’s remarkable – and entrepreneurial, in every sense of the word – how Apple has linked all its systems and hardware together, which has enabled it to have its cake and eat it too. It can shut out the rest of the market, and use its plethora of first-party data to deliver a better advertising product than its competitors.

So will Apple’s bold move restore its dominance in the Big Tech arms race? For now, definitely. But it won’t be long before the other big players adapt, and first party data becomes the next pawn in the battle for privacy.

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