Third party cookies crumble does not solve privacy

What started twenty years ago as a hack, the almighty cross-site tracking artifact at the core of the business model from the biggest companies of our era is now bound to die within the next two years (if Google eventually stops pushing back the deadline). With the always greater impact of digital within our physical lives, trying to make privacy standards converge towards the same level make sense and third-party cookies, as they are mainly used now, definitely stands in the way of that objective. But, beyond privacy, I have always been puzzled by the overkill nature of that solution.

Third-party cookies theoretically allows one advertiser to retarget users at a really granular level. So granular actually, that it could theoretically be possible to target a single individual quite easily. Still, who needs that precision? Having dealt with brands spending consequent budgets on digital ads, I have come to the conclusion that:

  1. Most companies do not have the digital maturity or data infrastructure to make use of such extreme personalization capabilities.
  2. Companies that can afford going to such extent rarely do and mostly target cohorts
To illustrate the first point, in my experience, when engaging with a brand, on whatever channel, I usually do not get recognized across services (say, between customer support and customers account). Because implementing that kind of identity reconciliation across different tools is hard. At least, it requires a special set of skills to implement this kind of solution within a corporate environment. How come then a company would like to engage in hyper-targeted ads and post-click personalization at the beginning of the funnel when just recognizing known users at the end of the funnel is not in place?

At the same time, third-party cookies linked with onsite conversion measurement provide a customizable and accurate measurement framework for brands to assess their campaigns performance. And the ubiquity of third-party cookies + its simple design make it hard to replace. Google, for instance, has been stucked for months now trying to convince adtechs actors to embrace its Privacy Sandbox initiative. This is to say that the crumble of third party cookies (pun intended) will not lead to the disappearance of performance tracking. But then, beyond privacy sandbox, how adtech can reconciliate ads clicks with users onsite behavior? What's the "foreign key" here? Recent initiatives by Facebook and Google ask brands to share as much pii data as possible wehn dispatching conversion events, hashed through SHA256. Facebook, as Google, holding almost every single users emails in their database, are able to build the user journey cross site through simply comparing hashes. And this is not proper to facebook, as initiatives from other actors in the industry all gravitate around the same concept. The most convincing alternative is some kind of data clean room. Which poses other question I should tackle in another article.

So what are we left with? On the performance measurement / targeting capabilities, we will end up with something that's slightly degraded in terms of accuracy. But privacy-wise, this feels, to me at least, like a huge step back. I am not advocating for third-party cookies by the way. But let's not congratulate on their planned death either.