More than a bad batch: Why everyone is ditching browser cookies

The pro-cookie argument has always been: It’s more profitable. But new evidence is challenging that.


August 6, 2020

No one likes tracking cookies. Visit the website for that cat-poop spaceship just once, and internet ads will never let you live it down.

The cookie cartel insists the trackers are sweeter for everyone: Advertisers make more money, and readers get custom-baked ads.

But the conventional cookie wisdom is burning: When the Dutch media giant NPO banned cookies this winter, revenues shot up more than 60% in January and February.

The Dutch went retro

NPO’s old-school approach is called “contextual advertising.” Instead of targeting users, ads match the topic of an article.

Reading about the bar-food surplus? NPO will sell you buffalo wings.

It’s not the only company hungry for a cookie alternative. Publishers say Google acts like Cookie Monster — it gobbled a huge batch of the targeted-ad market, and it takes a revenue cut of more than 30%.

Condé Nast and The New York Times are testing cookie-free diets. They sell to you based on your reading history on their sites, not anywhere else.

This is how cookies crumble

  • A study from Google last year showed cookies boost ad revenue by 50+%, but recent research suggests the bounce is close to zilch.
  • Firefox this week rolled out a feature that would block a greater share of cookies.
  • Even Google might phase out 3rd-party cookies in Chrome. But Google itself can still use your Chrome history to serve you all the cat-poop spaceship ads it wants.

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