Who ate all the cookies?

Do you ever get the feeling that in media land there is too much cake and cookies…? It’s like publishers are sending in daily air drops of sugar filled treats to tempt you away from your quinoa salad you made for lunch. You have to work out twice as hard at the gym to get ‘rig ready’ after consuming over 25 miniature muffins a day.cookie

Fear not! The cookies are starting to crumble, maybe not so in the office but within the industry.

There is a lot of talk in the marketplace around mobile cookies at the moment or the lack of them.

To give you a quick overview of where we currently sit on mobile when it comes to cookie tracking there is a commonplace view in the market that “Cookies don’t work on mobile”. This statement isn’t completely correct but there are restrictions on mobile making it challenging to roll out the digital strategies you see across desktop.

To help demystify this we have to break it down into two separate entities – mobile web and mobile apps.

Mobile Web

Mobile web

Mobile Apps

When you access a mobile app something called a webview is used to display online content such as a website (if needed) or an ad. Cookies can be stored within the webview similar to the way they are stored within a web browser setting. The issue is that the webview (and the cookies within the webview) are unique to that application.

I think it’s worth drawing attention to cookie tracking over desktop also which currently in the limelight.

Although desktop cookies are everywhere –nearly 85 percent of the top 1,000 sites have cookies set by a third party, according to a study by the UC Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, industry leaders have declared “the death of cookies” sometime within the next few years because of privacy concern, limited reach over mobile and poor cross-device tracking.


There are three solutions to the problem; known, stable & statistical identifiers.

Known Identifiers

This takes the form of information such as an ID which is assigned to you when you log into social media platforms such as Facebook & Twitter allowing retargeting to allow over both mobile and desktop.

This information is highly accurate with rich data around demographics and interests being able to be used by advertisers across both desktop and mobile platforms.

Companies such as AdRoll (recently launched in AU) allow advertisers to retarget users across both mobile and desktop devices using this technology.

Stable Identifiers

This is a specific device or browser ID code for example Apple’s IDFA (“identifierForAdvertising”) used on iOS devices is a good stable ID. These IDs typically don’t expire or erase, are anonymous and allow for user opt-out.

Most notably, Google is rumored to be developing a stable ID system, known as AdID. The AdID would be a unique identifier associated with the Chrome browser and Android devices that persistently identifies users. It would be anonymously passed to advertisers approved by Google, while giving users greater control over how they are tracked online (such as the ability to opt-out or block specific advertisers). The AdID could also include “known” data for users logged in to Google products like Gmail and Google.

Statistical Identifier

This is a blend of a number of variables (such as but not limited to; device type, operating system, user-agent, IP address) which have been stitched together to create profiles of users.

Unfortunately there are limitations as the list veries depending on MWeb or app along with the vendor it is coming from as some vendors have access to different variables over others. The attributes of the variables also change considerably over time (due to updates ect) which means we should only use them to profile users rather than link specific users to messages.

Airwave’s thoughts

It’s worth putting the cookie argument into perspective. Many industry leaders have grimly declared “the death of the cookie” sometime within the next few years across desktop. Current technology companies are finding new ways in which to track users without the use of cookies. The most notable one currently would be AdRoll which utilize Facebook login data to allow advertisers to target users across both desktop and mobile, cookieless.

The new world wide security bug, Heartbleed has also highlighted how important web security is and internet users are becoming more vigilant around how advertisers are tracking their online activities.

With this all in mind we could be on the verge of mass migration away from the shady world of cookies. This would only be a good thing for mobile as it would pull online into a level playing field alongside other media channels and would mean the industry would have to invest in cookie less tracking technology.

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