Cookies Have Gone Stale, So Microsoft and Others Plan To Bake Up Something New

By October 11, 2013
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Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook have all decided the web cookie looks more like a cobweb cookie these days, and it’s time for a replacement. The future of web tracking technology may go much further than just your desktop.

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Ah, the web cookie…one of the last bastions of the “old world wide web.” It’s one of the few web technologies that really hasn’t evolved over time. It’s pretty much always done the same thing: Stores your preferences, logins, and other such web-based activity. If you’re like me, you’ve got more cookies on your computer than Mrs. Fields has baked, ever. Well, a handful of companies have decided it’s time to throw away the stale cookies, and bake something new. Of course, everybody has a different recipe.

Last month, Google announced their potential cookie replacement, AdID. The main purpose of AdID, as one might guess from the name, is to replace third-party tracking cookies (created by such services as AdChoices and the like) which are currently used to send users targeted advertising. These cookies see where you browse, what you view, and in turn offer up ads that are somewhat relevant to your interests. The other intent is to make it follow you to your mobile devices, so you’re served up the same set of relevant ads regardless of platform. There are two issues that AdID aims to solve, from what has been revealed thus far:

Ads aren’t targeted well enough — I’m sure you’ve seen this before. You love your headphones that you just bought from Amazon, but you did a bunch of research and read a ton of reviews about them before you threw down your hard earned cash. After you researched, you started seeing ads for the headphones on almost every site you frequented… even though you bought them and they’re crowning your head at this very moment. What’s the point of selling an ad to someone who already bought the product?

Users are blocking their ads — Many of you already do this. You may hate seeing ads because it slows down your browsing, plus maybe you’ve never bought a product via a web ad in your whole digital life. Plus, you don’t like the idea of advertisers collecting your browsing habits. Both are legitimate issues, but there’s a flip side to it. If advertisers could tell that’s your preference, they could minimize their presence on their own. In addition, blocking the ads can sometimes hurt the bottom line of the websites you visit daily. Ad revenue is a complex thing, but you’d be surprised to see where all the money goes.

Thus far, Google’s idea only seems to include advertising, because–let’s be honest–that’s really their biggest money source. The ad companies are not wholly comfortable yet with the idea of Google being the one in charge, especially since they don’t know if Google will be playing with an iron fist or kid gloves when it comes to transparency with the collection of data. As AdAge put it: “Anyone adopting Google’s system would … have to bend to whatever terms Google sets in how that technology and the information it surfaces can be used. In this scenario, Google rises from being the biggest card player at the table to owning the casino. The ad tech companies would be playing with Google’s chips.”

Facebook, Amazon, and Apple each have their own methods of tracking, some of which have gone under fire and undergone modification by users concerned about their privacy. They may very well throw their collective hats into the cookie replacement ring [or cookie jar, as it were], but if they are, they’re keeping it mum.

Microsoft, however, has big plans which seem to be on an even larger scale that that of Google’s AdID concept. While Google aims for desktop and mobile devices, MS is aiming for desktop, mobile, consoles, tablets, and pretty much anything that runs either Windows or through Internet Explorer. That isn’t to say ALL mobile devices and consoles, but definitely the ones in Microsoft’s playground [i.e. Windows Phone’s and Xbox systems]

Unlike Google’s AdID, it appears that MS is aiming  to make something that can bridge not just ad targeting, but to wholly identify users between platforms. It almost sounds like part of the “One Microsoft” movement that retiring CEO Steve Ballmer has been touting for the past few months. Much like Google, the folks at Redmond haven’t made many details public, so we’re left to ponder how they’ll each use their technologies when they come about.

My hope is that they won’t be used for merely ads, but to help bridge experiences between mobile and desktop. Imagine if you were on a webpage on your desktop, and could ‘push’ it to your tablet or phone? It would remember what you were doing, and maybe even drop you exactly where you left off. Cookies store login information, so the proposition of pushed multi-platform content doesn’t sound like a pipe dream, but more like something that will come to pass sooner than we think.

Of course, I could be totally wrong, and I’ll just have the same set of ads telling me I need a new mop following me away from my PC…even while I’m playing the next HALO on the Xbox One. Let’s hope the Dark Side of advertising doesn’t spoil what could lead to a wonderful thing.

Until we hear more, I guess we’ll just have to keep eating the same old cookies past their expiration date. Ew.

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Bryan is a tech and gadget geek, as well as a fan of media in all its forms. Film, music, games, you name it. He also has a deep love for nearly all things indie, because sometimes the little fish have the biggest adventures. You can find him as @DieselBT pretty much anywhere on the internet.