Straightforward & Simple: Cookies & Tracking
One of the big projects that’s awaiting my team in the near future involves server to server integration. When I asked for more details, I figured out that it includes moving from client-side tracking to server-side tracking.
I didn’t know all that much about tracking, so I went into the depths of the web in order to truly understand the concept and the technical details involved in its implementation.
In this article, I’ll concentrate on leveling the playing field. I’ll discuss what tracking is, how it works, and its relationship with cookies.
If that’s something you’re already well versed in, stay tuned for the upcoming articles, where I’ll discuss in a simple and straightforward way, how Client-side tracking works, how Server-side tracking works, and then compare them side by side to get a better understanding of the pros and cons of each method.
Tracking and its relationship with cookies
When most tech-oriented people think of tracking, the first thing that comes to mind is cookies.
And although the cookies in the picture appear to be delicious, I’m talking about the ones that are stored in your browser, and I’m afraid they’re not as appealing. In a nutshell, cookies are files that websites store in your browser. They contain information about you, which helps the site owners give you a better, more personalized experience. They can keep you logged in, without the need to re-enter your password or save your shopping cart items for later review. In short, they contain identifying information about you.
The cookies I described above, are usually referred to as “first-party” cookies. Since they are created by the website you’re visiting, in order to save information that can improve your experience on that same website.
“Third-party” cookies are different. These cookies, are generated by snippets of JS code, embedded in the website you’re using. Except these snippets belong to a different website, that has a different domain name (the aforementioned “third-party”).
For example, let’s say you’re logged into Facebook. It keeps a “first-party” cookie with your information, so you don’t need to login every time you access it. You then proceed to surf the web and end up opening an article on some news site. You find that article useful, so you decide to “like” it, clicking on the familiar Facebook “like” button. That familiar “like” button is actually a part of a code snippet that allows Facebook to read the cookie it saved earlier. Thereby allowing Facebook to track your activities and tie them to your account. This data is then used by Facebook to figure out what kind of things you’re interested in. So if that article you read touted the benefits of foam rolling, you shouldn’t be surprised to see ads promoting foam rollers in your Facebook feed.
You might rightfully claim that’s a violation of your privacy. And indeed, there are legislation efforts aimed at tackling these privacy issues. GDPR being the most comprehensive. You probably even started to notice its effects, as many sites now ask you to explicitly accept the usage of cookies. Bothersome as it may be, it’s for your own protection.
That said, if you’re an advertiser, that’s some pretty bad news. Luckily there are ways around it, and I’m planning on diving deeper into Client-side tracking and its rising alternative — Server-side tracking in the upcoming series of articles.