The race is on between Google and Adobe as both seek to replace the third party cookie with their own alternative technologies. While we already know a lot about Google’s FLoC, Adobe’s Target is still mostly a mystery, although it is reportedly already being tested by companies such as FedEx and Verizon in America.
The third party cookie problem
Cookies have been around since 1994 and despite all the ranting and raving from uninformed conventional media there is nothing wrong about cookies and they are not going anywhere anytime soon. This is because they provide an essential service that would be hard to refactor.
To understand the importance of cookies let us examine their history. In 1994, MCI (now part of AT&T) wanted Netscape (whose code was the basis of Mozilla Firefox) to create e-Commerce software that could keep track of the state of customer transactions on the customer’s computer instead of on the server and so cookies were born or rather repurposed in the next release of Netscape’s browser.
That utilitarian purpose has not changed much. Cookies are still used by servers and websites to keep track of things. For example on sites that provide a customised experience cookies might be used to keep track of your favourite version of the website (dark mode or light mode), determine whether you have logged in already or not, what items are in your shopping cart, whether you have visited a site in the past or not among many other things.
In a lot of cases, you also get served Ad-code for adverts by another domain such as Google, you get analytics code from Google and Facebook. So you might be visiting Techzim but your browser gets files and resources from other domains even though you have not specifically visited them. These companies can also set cookies in your browser too. These are known as third-party cookies as they are from a domain e.g. ads.facebook.com that is different from the domain you have visited techzim.co.zw
So next time you visit Facebook, they just retrieve that cookie, together with any information stored on it. They now know you spent five minutes staring at the Techzim Mi Box product page. This must mean deep down you are looking to buy a Mi Box and just like that you start getting ads from Mi Box sellers.
Combined with machine learning, third party cookies can offer frightening insights about who you are as a person. You see third party cookies from Google and Facebook for example are practically on every page you visit on the internet. As you go about your business, those cookies keep getting updated as an accurate profile of you is built. They know when you have flu because you keep visiting flu sites looking for remedies. They know when you are overweight or underweight, they know when you are cheating or lying. They know everything including the nature of your most intimate emails if you read them in a browser.
As I said, the third party cookie is frightening. If you think you have nothing to hide-know this, everybody has something to hide. The job of the third party cookie, which anyone can set, is to unearth those secrets and monetise them.
Adobe is looking to make the next Flash Player
If you were a prolific computer user during the past decade then you know the drill to setting up a new computer.
- Set up a password after installing a new operating system
- Install an anti-virus
- Install a browser
- Download and install Flash
Flash was the cornerstone of a rich media web. You only needed to visit three or so websites before you got the prompt that if you wanted to view the content on that site, you needed Flash Player. Let me underscore this by saying, if you wanted to watch YouTube videos, you needed Flash Player. Those days are over though as Flash Player has been replaced by HTML5.
The thing is Adobe has a history of taking a chaotic and confusing technological situation and somehow making it all better. Look at PDF and Flash Player. They are hoping Target will have similar success.
Will they win against Google though? Only time will tell but if anyone has a chance it’s Adobe.