The issue of cookies and user tracking has long been an issue, but the importance of these marketing and development tools has kept them a vital part of our web experiences. However, Google announced that its popular Chrome browser would no longer support third-party cookies, and in January 2024, they began rolling out anti-cookie technology.
This has significantly impacted businesses managing compliance with regulations, primarily with GDPR privacy requirements. Here, we’ll discuss why cookies have special consideration under GDPR rules and how businesses can address these issues.
The Traditional Role of Third-Party Cookies
Cookies are small text files that websites place on users’ browsers to help provide unique experiences or track behavior. These have been a cornerstone of online marketing for almost as long as online marketing has existed and have been a security and privacy risk for just as long.
While these cookies have been going strong for decades, regulatory pressures and consumer demand for privacy have accelerated the demise of third-party cookies. Landmark data protection legislations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in the United States have introduced stringent requirements for user consent and data handling. Most recently, Google announced that the Chrome browser would no longer support these cookies, and with the browser boasting roughly 65% of the market share, this is a big hit against the practice.
Accordingly, web browsers like Safari and Firefox have already started blocking third-party cookies by default, and Google Chrome has begun rolling out its protection functionality in January of 2024.
GDPR and the Shift in Data Collection Practices
What has led to this shift in how we think of privacy? The convergence of digital-savvy consumers and stringent regulations like GDPR reflects a more profound rethinking of compliance and its comprehensive impact on all aspects of a business’s operations. Specifically, regulations like GDPR have significantly impacted companies and data collection.
Some of the critical areas where this will impact businesses include:
- Privacy and Consent: Businesses must obtain explicit, informed consent from users before embarking on data collection, which has been an issue for cookies and has led to the proliferation of lengthy cookie disclaimers on websites. Organizations must ensure their data collection operations are up to standards in the new landscape.
- Prioritizing Data Minimization: GDPR champions collecting only the essential data for a specific objective. Third-party cookies, conversely, would rarely have the kind of granular controls that were expected. As a result, the once prevalent shotgun tactic in marketing and cookie usage must now yield more precise and GDPR-compliant data analysis methods.
- Striking a Balance Between Usability and Privacy: The ongoing challenge for businesses is to find innovative ways to collect and utilize data while maintaining the user experience. In terms of first-party data collection, this will mean making unobtrusive but clear data collection.
These changes are signaling a pivotal transformation in digital marketing, where adherence to legal compliance, ensuring transparency, and focusing on user-centric practices are becoming integral.
Impact on GDPR-Compliant Marketing and User Tracking
With the decline of third-party cookies, there’s an increased focus on first-party data collected directly from interactions with customers, which means a new set of concerns for businesses. They must now look to robust, compliant data protection strategies, including state-of-the-art encryption, secure data storage, and stringent access controls.
Some of the shifts in this area will include:
- Shift to First-Party Data: With the elimination of third-party cookies, businesses focus more on first-party data, which is collected directly from user interactions on their platforms. This shift aligns well with GDPR’s emphasis on transparency and consent but requires organizations to implement tight controls.
- Contextual Advertising: Contextual advertising can limit data collection to the immediate context, curtailing how much data the organization collects (and, accordingly, following data minimization required by GDPR).
- Enhanced User Consent Mechanisms: Businesses rely on more in-depth consent forms and tools that can better comply with GDPR and are better supported by first-party data collection (collect once for context without attempting to collect across different websites).
- Privacy by Design in Marketing Strategies: GDPR’s principle of privacy by design pushes businesses to integrate privacy considerations into their marketing strategies from the ground up. This includes respecting user preferences and minimizing data collection.
- Increased Use of Privacy Tech Solutions: Companies are leveraging technology solutions like Consent Management Platforms (CMPs) that help manage user preferences and ensure data collection and usage transparency.
Enhancing Data Security and User Privacy
With the move away from cookies, businesses will have to shore up existing privacy and security controls to maintain compliance while preparing to shift to new ways to engage with customers–thus introducing new challenges. Generally speaking, there are some fundamental, foundational practices that an organization can focus on that will serve them across this transition:
- Risk Management: Companies will have to incorporate risk not only as a security practice but also as one that encompasses privacy. This includes keeping tabs on things like marketing data-gathering operations.
- Transparency: Companies must communicate with their users about their data processing practices. This includes straightforward privacy notices that outline what data is being collected, why it’s collected, and how it’s used.
- Consent Management: GDPR mandates that consent for data processing must be freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous. The move from cookies allows organizations to centralize robust consent mechanisms that are easier to manage and verify.
- Data Protection Officers: In this new era, the role of Data Protection Officers (DPOs) has become more crucial than ever. Tasked with overseeing compliance efforts, conducting regular audits, and acting as points of contact for regulatory authorities, DPOs are the linchpins in ensuring that companies maintain transparency and accountability in their data processing activities.
- Data Portability: The ability for users to transfer their data between service providers is another critical aspect of GDPR. Companies must facilitate this data portability, allowing users to take their data where they choose, enhancing competition and user autonomy.
Managing Your Privacy Controls with Continuum GRC
Want a solution that can help you monitor compliance controls across your organization? Trust Continuum GRC.
Continuum GRC is a cloud platform that can take something as routine and necessary as regular vulnerability scanning and reporting under FedRAMP and make it an easy and timely part of business in the public sector. We provide risk management and compliance support for every major regulation and compliance framework on the market, including:
- NIST 800-53
- FARS NIST 800-171
- SOC 1, SOC 2
- PCI DSS 4.0
- IRS 1075
- COSO SOX
- ISO 27000 Series
- ISO 9000 Series
And more. We are the only FedRAMP and StateRAMP-authorized compliance and risk management solution worldwide.
Continuum GRC is a proactive cyber security® and the only FedRAMP and StateRAMP-authorized cybersecurity audit platform worldwide. Call 1-888-896-6207 to discuss your organization’s cybersecurity needs and find out how we can help your organization protect its systems and ensure compliance.