Some companies are up in arms about Google Chrome's new alternative to browser cookies, but Google and consumers are likely to respond with, "That's the way the cookie crumbles."
Google's anonymous identifier for advertising (adID) will replace first- and third-party cookies in its Chrome browser and give consumers more control over what advertisers can track and know about them.
Obviously, this is a response to the precarious position that Google is in as a result of the Do Not Track Movement. Advertising accounted for $43.6 billion of Google's $46 billion in revenue in 2012. Obviously, had Do Not Track taken hold in a way that Google wasn't able to dictate, the lion's share of its revenue would have been put in jeopardy.
As it stands, Google may have avoided the wrath of government regulators and consumers while incurring the wrath of others in the digital advertising business. Clearly, by eliminating third-party cookies, Google is saying, "If you want to know about your customer, you've got to learn everything through us." With Chrome's increasing popularity, it puts a lot of control in Google's hands.
Cookies are great for advertisers (whether served with milk or through a browser) because they can compete with the same data Google and Facebook and others have. Advertisers already went berserk when Mozilla tried to eliminate third-party cookies by default in Firefox. Mozilla turned that feature off because they claimed it wasn't consistent, but there's also speculation that they bowed to pressure from third-party advertisers.
Before Google makes advertisers toss their cookies, they are presenting adID to a group of advertisers, retailers, and other stakeholders. What changes are made remain to be seen, but attracting retailer support will be key for Google.
From the retailer perspective, adID looks like a tradeoff. Some percentage of what some more aggressive retailers ran on their sites might be stopped by new Chrome settings and adID. On the other hand, adID might give some consumers more confidence to allow anonymous tracking of their actions to greater detail. You may not be able to tell anymore that Jane Doe buys a case of Chip's Ahoy for her church picnic every month, but you will know that shopper x buys a case of cookies once a month, back-to-school supplies for a family of four, golf balls by the dozen, and has searched recently for hang gliding lessons. If your site happens to sell all of those things, you might be able to convert shopper x into a regular customer. And, of course, once they're a customer, you'll have access to the data you always capture from customers.
For once, the clear winner here is the consumer, who will get to have their cookie and eat it, too. The ability to browse anonymously when desired and be served specific and useful ads when they prefer -- all the while protecting their privacy -- is a major win.
It would take a fortune cookie to see what Google finally bakes into adID. They're likely to be influenced by advertisers, retailers, and regulators (or the fear of regulators) before it is finally over.
There's likely to be some compromise, but CIOs across any retail sector ought to be able to see the general direction adID is headed and plan for it. If you're relying heavily on your own third-party cookies, it might be time to get some Google analytics experts on your team. If you can't stand the idea of working with Google, you might need other big players like Facebook, because there's about to be a big fight over the control of customer information. The good news is that Google has found a good way to keep getting that information regulators were trying to take away from everyone (including retailers and advertisers). The bad news is that they own it, and it could cost you.
They've got their hand in the cookie jar. It is up to you to figure out how to keep your hand in as well.