So, cookies are on their way out, according to some. Whilst this is not certain, it should be made clear that cookies are not that bad, compared to other tracking methodologies. I love how the idea of deprecating cookie tracking is presented as a victory for users’ privacy, where in reality, this is just bolstering the creation of alternatives that won’t be as controllable.
Using cookies to reliably keep track of users and grant them access to private areas on a website is a no-brainer, since it is important to provide each user with the content relevant to them (e.g. their very own account). In that case, inaccuracies can’t be permitted, and cookies are the way forward. Although advertisers don’t like inaccuracies either, it is not a critical issue if users see the wrong re-targeting ad or if 5% of advertisers’ mobile app installs are not being attributed to a specific source – as long as spillage remains relatively confined. This is why the loss of cookies on the long term is not a big deal for the advertising industry. If we kill the current best tracking method, advertisers will invest and support – mainly by their constant need to advertise – the development of new or existing alternative tracking methods. Doing so will drastically increase the accuracy of those methods, and it will just be the matter of a couple of years for the tracking industry to get back to a cookie-grade accuracy with cookie-less tracking methods.
Cookies were a good thing for the consumer, for the simple reason consumers will have limited control on alternative methods such as device identification, provided by companies such as Drawbridge, AdTruth or HasOffers if these companies don’t openly cooperate with browsers and mobile OS’s. It is for instance possible to opt-out from AdTruth by using Firefox’s Do Not Track feature, but future will tell us if all of them will honor Do Not Track headers online, and similar features on mobile OS’s.
Rather than blaming cookies, it would be better for anyone aiming at defending users’ privacy to support and improve Do Not Track features. Encouraging the whole advertising industry to move to a cookie-less tracking will not avoid them to track, it will just push away users’ control.