WTF are Facebook’s first-party cookies for pixel?


Amid the rise of government regulations on data privacy and restrictions from browsers on tracking, Facebook won’t let the lifeblood of its advertising system fall. The platform has released first-party cookies for Facebook Pixel, an expansion of its current system of third-party cookies, so advertisers can keep tracking user activity on other sites and retarget them with Facebook ads. Here’s what marketers need to know:

Why is this happening?
Let’s start with some Cookies 101 before we get there. A first-party cookie means a piece of code is created by the actual site a user is on. A third-party cookie is available on that same site but created by a different entity. If a Facebook pixel is on the site, Facebook can then add a third-party cookie to a user’s browsing activity.

The launch of Facebook’s first-party cookies means Facebook will now create cookies that pass data back to Facebook as long as the sites have established a first-party relationship. This change was made in light of web browsers like Apple’s Safari, Mozilla’s Firefox and ad blocking preventing third-party cookies from being trackable.

Is this just a way to get around clampdowns on the use of data in digital advertising?
You might be onto something.

“Apple and Firefox recently announced that they will be blocking third-party cookies where the domain of the cookie does not match the domain of the host site, so Facebook is rolling out first-party cookies to fight this since they cannot be blocked. It’s a huge win for marketers and a quick roll-out,” said Chris Mikulin, a digital strategist at digital agency Calder Bateman.

The move also may have been to get ahead of any regulations similar to General Data Protection Regulations in the U.S., Mikulin said.

How does Facebook paint it?
Facebook spokesperson Joe Osborne emailed, “We are offering a first-party cookie option for the Facebook pixel to help businesses continue understanding site activity and ad attribution across browsers. This change is in line with updates made by other online platforms, as the use of first-party cookies for ads and analytics is becoming the preferred approach by some browsers. The controls people have over ads will not change.”

What do advertisers need to do?
The first-party cookies go live on Oct. 24. Prior to that date and after, advertisers can choose whether to have first-party or third-party cookies in their pixels by logging into their account and going to Facebook’s “Events Manager.” Under “Pixel and Cookie Settings,” advertisers can choose to turn off first-party cookies. Any new pixels will automatically include first-party cookies unless advertisers opt out.

Do marketers need first-party and third-party cookies?
For most advertisers, the answer is yes if they want to make the most complete set of data.

“Generally speaking marketers will want to adopt first-party cookies to cover all bases and ensure less disruption from third-party cookie blockers,” said Aaron Goldman, chief marketing officer of 4C Insights.

Advertisers should use both types of cookies if they want to keep making custom audiences on Facebook based off of the data they receive from a pixel as well if they want to better optimize dynamic ads. If not, brands will have to continue to operate without data from Safari users or those protected by GDPR.

“You’d be missing out on data [if you didn’t] especially if you’re already running ads where, like, 50 percent or more of mobile visits come from in-app Safari,” Mikulin said.

Indeed, Facebook wrote in its blog post, “using both first and third-party cookies will enable you to reach more customers on Facebook and to be more accurate in measurement and reporting.”

Why opt out of first-party cookies?
Facebook is taking the opt-out approach for the first-party pixel, and advertisers may need to select that if the industry they market for has extremely tight data restrictions. That could mean the medical or financial industries.

“The exception might be brands in heavily regulated industries for whom this type of data sharing may be problematic,” Goldman said.

Lizzie Chapman, vp of paid media at VaynerMedia, said that the majority of brands are already using platform first-party cookies with Google and Microsoft.

“There may be concerns about respecting user privacy, but users still have the ability to block first-party cookies. Facebook joining the party shouldn’t set off any alarms. Any brand that is not collecting sensitive information, such as healthcare, should adopt Facebook’s first-party cookie,” Chapman said.

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