web-based tracking

Death By Cookie

In Google Analytics by Andrew Bloch

Tracking is an exciting concept – the first tracking experience I had was with a startup I was involved in. This startup installed surveillance systems inside trucks to monitor the safety of the vehicle and the driver.

We were installing a SIM card into a fancy device that talks back to a cloud server, which allows the server to track the truck and stream live video. Because this system relied on the cellphone network having reliable coverage, the major challenge and issues we faced were that if the truck drove through an area with low connectivity, we would lose all connection. We were thus unable to stream the live video, which was a significant challenge in the industry and resulted in various suppliers creating complex hybrid solutions to fill in the gap during downtime.

Web-Based Tracking

Web-based tracking, mainly Google Analytics, uses a similar approach to track users on a website. This tracking comes in the form of  “Cookies”, which were invented to solve related issues of downtime, lost connection, switching to other browsers and time between first and last interactions.

The Cookie Has Been a Bridge

The cookie has been a solution to many complicated problems and a bridge to answer difficult questions.

Let’s relook at the truck surveillance issue. To gain complete 95% live accuracy of tracking, one would need to capture and store all the tracking inside the truck without having any reliance on the cellular networks and signal strength. Similar to how a submarine runs entirely independent and off the grid. To track something correctly you need to start at the base of the events, tracking the origin of each specific event.

How Is This Similar To Cookies?

Inaccurate web-based tracking is often the result of relying on cookies to handle cross-site tracking. Inside a users browser, cookies store tracking information about the user. The browser is an uncontrollable environment because each has 3rd party extensions that can cause discrepancies in the data. For example, ad blockers can block web-based tracking from the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

The Privacy Discussion

The broad idea is that users feel an invasion of their privacy because cookies are mostly unregulated. Acts like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have put governments in the game, enforcing better regulations about tracking and privacy. Google is leaning into these changes and it’s likely they will leverage this increased privacy concern to advance their own technologies for market dominance.

Things Are Changing Fast:

With So Much Change, What Can a Brand Do?

  1. Stop trusting web-based tracking.
  2. Educate developers to write better code that controls events at a server level.
  3. Move away from the DOM load.
    1. The DOM is a signal that a page has been successfully loaded, this can be unreliable as technology recently has changed. Recently website and apps are able to improve the content of a page by consistently reloading based on user behaviour. So the same page can reload multiple times while a user is viewing it.

The Solution: Move To Server Tracking

Google has been predicting this inevitable change for several years, and they have done a series of acquisitions to position themselves for this change away from third-party cookies and the old standard version of Google Analytics 1.0.

Firebase Analytics is Google Analytics 2.0.

Historically Google Analytics 1.0 has been terrible at app tracking, giving room for other tools like – Branch.io to emerge and cover the gap. But Google’s been working hard at Firebase Analytics, and now they have an extremely formidable solution which is surrounded by a developer environment that can compete with the likes of Amazon’s fast-growing Cloud Services.

The unique design for Firebase allows it to user serverside and clientside tracking, so to compare to the truck environment, it can be streamed via the cellphone network or physically installed inside the truck, installing inside the truck ensures maximum uptime and accuracy.

What does this mean?

  • Cookies are dying, and all 3rd party affiliation sites will lose attribution with cross-site tracking ability.
  • Brands are likely to reduce ad spend and push more effort into content production, ensuring that they mitigate their risk in 2022.
  • Tracking for 3rd Party solutions competing with Google is going to become a lot harder, and brands will likely revert to content and SEO strategies.
  • Brands who need complicated tracking systems may need to develop their custom serverside tracking that logs everything at a code level.

We wait for mid-2022

Google Chrome will likely remain the dominant browser, and brands can continue to track as they are. With Firefox and Safari leading the charge, segments of tracking are consistently being lost. Brands that use affiliate links to attribute ROI are the most affected, this mainly being the online gambling industry and product review blogs.

Change is good, like the truck surveillance example relying on the cellular networks is not a good decision to accurately track activity and get closer to 95% accuracy. Brands need to adapt and improve their internal tracking and consider server-side hybrid solutions like Firebase Analytics to weather the storms ahead.