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The crucial role of server-side tracking in complete data control

With Google's announcement to phase out third-party cookies, marketers face the challenge of reclaiming control over their website data. This article explores the challenges posed by the demise of third-party cookies and introduces server-side tracking as a vital alternative. By addressing the weaknesses of client-side tracking, server-side tracking offers marketers greater data control, accuracy, and valuable insights. As the era of third-party cookies comes to an end, it's time for marketers to embrace server-side tracking for a more controlled and secure data future.

The era of privacy awareness

In 2020, Google (Alphabet) announced for the first time that they would block third-party cookies in their Chrome browser from 2022. However, it seems that the end of the third-party cookie will only occur in the second half of 2024. A few weeks ago, Google published the phasing-out schedule, indicating that from January 1, 2024, 1% of all Chrome users will automatically have third-party cookies blocked. The phasing-out will be further scaled up in the third quarter of 2024. Further details about this have not been released yet.

In early 2023, MultiMinds already published a video post about the crumbling impact of the third-party cookie (2023, The Year Of The Crumbling Cookie). It seems that this process will slowly but surely continue towards its conclusion in the second half of 2024.

So, it's time to revisit what marketers can do to minimise the consequences of this and how to regain full control over their website data. Watch the video about server-side tracking in our blog post, discover what server-side tracking is exactly, and why you might consider implementing it.

Data is valuable, yet we give it away for free

The more you know about your target audience, the better. Through data, marketers can analyse consumer behavior, create personalised experiences, and offer targeted products. Despite this, in a digital context, marketers simply give away this information by allowing third-party cookies on their websites.

Recently (June 2023), Xandr, Microsoft's data broker, and the world's largest marketplace for online marketing data, came under scrutiny due to the concerning relationship between privacy and personal data. Netzpolitik.org, the German news site on digital culture and rights, gained insight into the composition of online segments offered by Xandr through a whistleblower, based on online information left by unsuspecting internet users. The analysis identifies up to 1,900 segments that can target Europeans based on sensitive information such as political beliefs, health, religion, family composition, and financial strength. You can consult the analysis here.

According to this research, in Belgium, it mainly concerns segments with information about family composition. Thanks to the IAB Transparency & Consent Framework, Xandr's third-party cookies can be found on most news sites in our country. What you read on a Belgian news site can, therefore, result in you getting a profile with data brokers like Xandr.

This shows that companies today are still handling the data they collect from their website visitors carelessly. Maintaining full control over customer data is not only good management of marketing resources but also a moral and legal obligation. Although the end of the third-party cookie seems definitively underway, it seems advisable for the industry to thoroughly reconsider how online customer data will be used in the future.

The alternative: The Privacy Sandbox

Because Google believes that personalised ads are an indispensable part of the internet - and because these revenues are a fundamental part of their income - they have come up with an alternative to the third-party cookie, the well-known Privacy Sandbox. Privacy Sandbox took shape for the first time in 2019 with the launch of FloC (Federated Learning of Cohorts). However, this method of grouping users with similar behavior for targeted advertising proved unsuccessful. There were criticisms, including the danger of algorithmic bias, where internet users were involuntarily grouped into certain cohorts.

Meanwhile, the Privacy Sandbox has become much more extensive, and since September 2023, tracking APIs are available in Chrome. Full availability is planned for the third quarter of 2024, according to the Privacy Sandbox website. Targeted advertising will, therefore, remain possible. It will be crucial for marketers to take back full control of their website data in this momentum.

It can be different: server-side tracking

Controlled, effective, and reasoned online data collection about your customers should be high on the agenda for every marketing manager. So, if you don't have knowledge of server-side tracking today, you know what to do.

Unlike client-side tracking, where data is communicated directly between the browser and a tracker (third-party cookies or pixels), server-side tracking collects data on its own server. The data is sent to this server before trackers like the Facebook Pixel can process them. This gives website owners complete control over the collected data.

Server-side tracking eliminates the disadvantages of client-side tracking, such as browser settings (Chrome automatically refusing third-party cookies) and ad blockers. The collected data will be more accurate and, therefore, more reliable to base decisions on. So, your analytics will provide a more realistic picture of your website's performance.

A second significant advantage is complete control over the data you collect on your website. You are no longer dependent on external trackers to use large online advertising platforms. Through APIs, you can share the necessary data for campaigns with these platforms. Moreover, you decide which data to share. Additionally, you are no longer vulnerable to incorrect implementations of external trackers that can cause data leaks.

By offloading data onto your own servers, it can be enriched with other data sources such as CRM data. This avoids digital data being disconnected from other data such as CRM in business processes. So, you get a more complete picture of your customers and, therefore, more insights.

Moreover, server-side tracking ensures faster loading times for a website. Client-side loading time is reduced because no external scripts need to be loaded in the user's browser.

Server-side tracking and cookies are both technologies that emerged with the rise of the internet in the '90s. 2024 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the cookie and also its end. This, while the other 'old' technology, server-side tracking, is considered the forward-looking way of collecting online data.

Towards a controlled data future

With the impending end of the third-party cookie, the crucial role of server-side tracking is central to regaining control over website data. In an era of privacy awareness, server-side tracking offers a secure way for marketers to respectfully and effectively collect and use online customer data.