Transcending The Cookie: The New Tracking Paradigm


ADOTASFirst-generation ad targeting technologies relied heavily on the infamous cookie – a small line of text with ID tag that is integrated into people’s web browsers, giving advertisers the ability to identify and send consumers relevant ads online. Like virtual door keys, cookies allow a website to recognize users when they return by opening access to different content, pages or services. A cookie itself does not contain information, but when it is read by a browser it can help a website improve the services it delivers.

While novel when first introduced, this form of online tracking is fraught with problems surrounding inconsistent data collection and has experienced its share of controversy.

Last April, Mozilla announced its new policy that would block third-party cookies in Firefox by default, preventing ad networks from being able to track online browsing behaviors. Essentially this would inhibit advertisers from targeting consumers with display ads in their web browsers.

At the time, IAB President Randall Rothenberg voiced his concern about the news.

“The Interactive Advertising Bureau strongly opposes the scheme by Mozilla to block third-party cookies by default in upcoming releases of its Firefox browser,” he said, “and we vigorously encourage both the non-profit Mozilla Foundation and its for-profit subsidiary the Mozilla Corporation, which is reconfiguring the Firefox browser, to abandon this proposed change. If Mozilla follows through on its plan to block all third-party cookies, the disruption will disenfranchise every single Internet user.”

But according to search retargeting company Zenya, third-party cookies are now passé. As an alternative, it “utilizes data from a propriety network which captures search intent from the previous 30 days,” said Robin Simkins, general manager of Zenya.

“This data is married with a user’s operating system and other inputs to properly identify the searcher’s intent and serve a targeted advertisement,” said Simpkins. “A fully cookie-reliant search retargeting solution suffers from slower ramp-up times, as cookie pools need to be built using customer data, and therefore delays optimization. With non-reliant solutions, advertisers can win the very next impression and positively impact overall campaign ROI immediately.”

Another alternative to cookies lies in the network, several layers of abstraction above the OS. Digital advertising company MediaShift has found a way to leverage private WiFi networks and publishing sites to deliver targeted ads to consumers.

“MediaShift’s technology is deployed at the network layer, which enables the collection of critical and relevant behavioral data on consumers both before and after they enter the WiFi network,” said David Grant, CEO at MediaShift. “MediaShift observes consumers across the entire travel lifecycle – when researching travel, booking travel, at the airport and then at a hotel. This level of granularity provides advertisers unparalleled segmentation and targeting based on location, device type and behavioral data. For example, we can tell if a consumer is at a business hotel or beach property.”

For advertisers, even persistent cookies have a short shelf life and expire after a short window of time, making for inconsistent data to help connect the dots for advertisers looking to create a cohesive view of users’ online behavior. Also the more savvy users know to delete their cookies forcing websites to start from scratch the next time a person connects to the web property.

“We believe network-based advertising has arrived. MediaShift is the de facto ad server to network providers and the entire ecosystem,” said Grant. “As privacy concerns grow, the explicit opt-in services that MediaShift provides, along with our superior targeting solution, MediaShift is in the right place at the right time.”




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