Cookies have long been the preferred tool for gathering user data and analytics, especially where advertisements were concerned. Google was initially planning to phase out its third-party cookies by the first quarter of 2022, though that plan has since been delayed to 2023 to allow companies to come up with new ways to manage their advertisements and marketing plans.
One tool currently being explored as a replacement for third-party cookies is none other than artificial intelligence or AI. What role could AI play in analytics gathering? Will these smart programs prove to be a viable replacement for the cookies that we’ve grown so accustomed to over the years?
Consumer Privacy Concerns
Apple recently added a feature called App Tracking Transparency to its latest iOS update. While it’s supposed to create a more private ecosystem for users, research suggests it doesn’t really work when managing third-party tracking cookies. It also provided no protection whatsoever when it came to transferring personal and device data, which can create a massive breach of privacy. Users had the option to block all tracking requests, but it was largely for show, with test apps ignoring that request.
This sort of privacy concern is a large part of why Google and others are beginning to slowly do away with traditional third-party tracking cookies.
Replacing the 1-10 Scale
Cookies might be the most effective way to collect user data, especially without their express knowledge or participation, but it is by no means the only tool for this sort of analytics. We’ve spent years relying on something as simple as a 1-10 scale, allowing users to provide their feedback in an easy-to-quantify format. This made it easy for programs to collect the data provided and turn it into actionable tidbits of data that managers and employees could respond to.
Unfortunately, as with much of the communication in the digital age, these simple surveys lack one major thing: emotion. Upwards of 65% of marketers believe contextual targeting isn’t enough. You can’t easily convey tone with a few lines of text, and you can’t convey emotion in a single 1-10 rating. AI can give companies the tools they need to truly understand how a user is feeling based on their comments, without having to sort through every single comment left on a review.
Pivoting to FLoC
There’s no need to panic about the shift away from cookies — at least not yet.
FloC stands for the Federated Learning of Cohorts, and is a machine learning program that Google is considering as a replacement for third-party tracking cookies. FLoC can analyze user data for thousands of people, assessing whether they might share interests. Instead of retrieving the data and sending it to a centralized database, FLoC stores each user’s data in their browser. This reduces the risk of a massive data breach because, in order to access the information that FLoC uses to make its assessments, hackers would have to make their way into each user account individually.
FLoC is one of many new machine learning and AI programs being evaluated to replace cookies when Google finally makes the leap sometime in 2023, but it isn’t the only one. Google is also not the only company making the switch and moving away from cookies, but they are by far the largest, and the decisions they make will have a ripple effect on the rest of the industry.
Looking Toward a Cookie-free Future when Gathering User Data
Cookies have served us well in the past, but it is time to move on to something smarter when gathering user data. More information will likely emerge in the coming months as the big industry players start to make their decisions, giving us a clearer picture of what analytics and metric tracking is going to look like once “standard” cookies go the way of the 8-track.
Once companies like Google make their decisions, the rest of us will have a better idea of how to proceed. But there is one fact that is undeniable at this point: regardless of the exact details, AI and machine learning are going to shape the future of analytics and advertising.