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As Bob Dylan crooned: “The times, they are a-changin’.” That feels true now more than ever, as technology continues to evolve rapidly. NFTs are fetching millions, the digital world transforms daily, and Google’s third-party cookies change is set to cause significant ripple effects for lots of organizations.

Understanding the Third-Party Cookies Change

 Cookies are small bits of code that deliver information about your browsing history to interested parties, such as advertisers, and Google Chrome decided to get rid of third-party cookies by 2022, which will make it more difficult to track the online activity of Google’s billions of users. It also means advertisers may have a more challenging time reaching people. Third-party cookies collect and send your browsing history data to a different domain than the one you’re on, whereas first-party cookies share your data with the owners of the domain you’re using. 

Ever notice how, for weeks after you looked at the website of your favorite clothing company, you see ads for it everywhere? That’s the magic of third-party cookies. These cookies track your internet usage and target ads to your specific online history. They also monitor the performance of the targeted ads.

From the outset, this change appears to be a boon for personal privacy. However, some speculate that the shift tighten’s Google’s grip on the online advertising industry. Additionally, the change could potentially harm smaller businesses that rely on advertisements placed on their website for a revenue stream. Google will now be in complete control of the advertising process and determining who sees what.

What is “The Privacy Sandbox”?

The Privacy Sandbox Proposal is how Google is creating these changes. Its mission is to “Create a thriving web ecosystem that is respectful of users and private by default.”

In a January 2021 article posted to the Google blog, Chetna Bindra, the Group Product Manager for User Trust and Privacy, says, “Advertising is essential to keeping the web open for everyone, but the web ecosystem is at risk if privacy practices do not keep up with changing expectations.” Bindra explains how users desire safety and privacy in their online “sandbox,” and Google wants to protect the user experience. 

“That’s why Chrome introduced the Privacy Sandbox and, today,” says Bindra, “shared progress on their path to eliminate third-party cookies by replacing them with viable privacy-first alternatives, developed alongside ecosystem partners, that will help publishers and advertisers succeed while also protecting people’s privacy as they move across the web.”

The Privacy Sandbox was first proposed in 2020. Today, it will power Google web products in a “post-third-party cookie world.”

What is “FLoC”?

A notable component of this digital change is Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). It envisions a new way that businesses can reach potential customers by placing relevant ads in front of groups of people with similar interests. 

It is a “privacy-first alternative to third-party cookies,” says Bindra. This type of interest-based advertising is a replacement for third-party cookies and shows a high conversion rate for sales, which is good news for advertisers. 

What Membership Organizations Should Know

While many people see this cookies change as an improvement, it has downsides. For membership organizations looking to recruit others and raise their profile via advertising, the change could potentially negatively impact these efforts. 

So, it may become critical for membership organizations to ramp up advertising and platform-building across other channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. LinkedIn, in particular, remains an excellent social channel on which to connect with professionals who want to work with like-minded people.

Content delivery, and thus, brand awareness, can also be impacted by the third-party cookies change. An organization’s content delivery strategy should pad itself for any negative impact by diversifying its content-delivery streams. In the same way you’d diversify recruiting efforts, look to creative and diverse content delivery methods across social channels and web platforms. 

Impact of Potential Membership Recruitment

WIRED magazine compares the third-party cookies change with the way Netflix’s algorithm works. Your online viewing history is similar to others’ online viewing history, so you’re lumped into the same category with them. You may see ads for products geared towards similar people, in the way Netflix will show you – and viewers with similar preferences – French films if you’re a Francophile. For membership organizations, this means that online users may be streamlined into specific “categories” of users and could end up missing targeted ads or announcements. 

Membership organizations’ media teams can develop workaround strategies to avoid missing their target demographic and stay ahead of these upcoming 2022 changes. For various non-profit organizations and those with limited budgets, this third-party change may require enhanced creativity to reach people widely and effectively. As the tech world continues changing rapidly, it’s still possible to stay engaged with members – and potential members – in creative and innovative ways.

Anne McCarthy
Post by Anne McCarthy
April 25, 2021
Anne McCarthy is a freelance journalist who reports on tech and culture. She is a contributing writer to the BBC, The Guardian, WIRED, Teen Vogue, Ms. Magazine, and more.