The ‘Future of the Cookie Working Group’, established by the International Advertising Bureau (IAB) in 2012, has published a white paper titled ‘Privacy and Tracking in a Post-Cookie World’, which addresses the limitations of the traditional cookie.

The Future of the Cookie Working Group takes issue with the fact that the cookie often forms the crux of many privacy-related debates. Furthermore, the cookie is increasingly being regarded as a hindrance to our Internet browsing, with cookie-clogging leading to frustratingly slow page-load times. Perhaps the most significant problem rests in the fact that cookie is becoming an outdated tool in our advancing digital environment. Steve Sullivan, Vice President, Advertising Technology, IAB, commented ‘The cookie has been central to the success of Internet advertising. However, the industry has evolved beyond the cookie’s designed capability.’ Anna Bager, Vice President and General Manager, Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence, IAB, added, ‘With the proliferation of Internet-connected devices, cookies are an increasingly unreliable tool for tracking users. Since they cannot be shared across devices, cookies lack the ability to provide users with persistent privacy and preferences as they jump from smartphone to laptop to tablet. At the same time, it leaves publishers unable to seamlessly communicate customized content to their audiences on a variety of screens. This report is the first step in correcting the problem and eliminating one of the biggest limitations impacting mobile advertising today.’

As a way forward, the white paper proposes five solutions that could potentially replace the role of the traditional cookie, including:

  • Device – Use of statistical algorithms to infer a user’s ID from information provided by the connected device, browser app or operating system.
  • Client – A user’s browser app or operating system tracks user information and manages preferences, then passes the information along to third parties.
  • Network – Third-party servers are positioned between the users’ device and publishers’ servers set IDs that are used to track user information and manage preferences.
  • Server – The current approach using cookies to track user information and manage preferences.
  • Cloud – Tracks user information and manages preferences via a centralized service that all parties agree to work with.

The white paper then analyses the feasibility of each of these solutions against IAB Guiding Principles, which identify the core needs of publishers, consumers and industry as set out below:

  • Publishers
    • A single privacy dashboard
    • Comprehensive privacy controls
    • Significantly fewer third-party pixels
    • Improved user tracking and targeting
    • Reduced cost for privacy compliance
    • Ability to detect non-compliant third parties
    • Open competition
    • Minimal deployment overhead
  • Consumers
    • A single privacy dashboard
    • A universal privacy view
    • Comprehensive privacy controls
    • Persistent and universal consumer preferences
    • Ability to detect non-compliant publishers and third parties
    • Free online service
  • Industry
    • Decreased ramp-up time and cookie churn
    • Lower operating cost
    • Better cross-device tracking
    • Better consumer transparency and control
    • High-integrity frequency capping
    • Less redundant data collection and transfer
    • Reduced regulatory threats
    • Clear value to the consumer
    • A non-proprietary solution not limited to one vendor
    • Minimal deployment overhead

The white paper concludes by confirming that all solutions proposed would prove more effective in achieving the objectives in IAB’s Guiding Principles than the current cookies-based approach. Taking this into account, and the fact that the proposed EU data protection regulation intends to impose more stringent rules on profiling, this could signal the demise of the traditional cookie as we know it.