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Marketers relish tracking data from publishers’ sites, which come from dozens of cookies dropped by the sites’ vendors, as well as from vendors’ partners. But few publishers have a good understanding of the many ways visitors are tracked or how page loading times are impacted by these services.

To help get a handle on this situation, the UK-based Association for Online Publishing (AOP) announced this week a new cookie classification system with US-based digital risk management firm The Media Trust.

How it works. The Media Trust will scan and catalog the names of cookies deposited into a browser of a typical visitor to a participating publisher site, and match those names against its ongoing database of domains and cookie functions.

While a cookie’s content can only be read by the domain that issued it, Media Trust European GM Matt O’Neill pointed out, the name can be read by anyone. The unique ID for each user is in the cookie content, he said, while the name for the same cookie function from the same domain is identical across users’ browsers.

The name corresponds to the domain of the firm that issued the cookie and its function, such as tracking a user who has made a purchase. If the cookie function is not known, The Media Trust emails the vendor and ask them to fill out an online questionnaire about industry category, such as advertising/marketing, and cookie function.

If a vendor doesn’t respond, each publisher can determine if they’re willing to take the risk of having that unclassified cookie dispensed from its site, or if it must make additional efforts to confront the vendor.

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Of course, each publishers’ set of identified cookies helps build a shared, comprehensive database of cookie sources and functions.

How publishers benefit. With this breakdown, the publisher can then get a view of the vendors utilizing its site, and the purposes for which they are tracking users. For European publishers, this can help in their offline determinations of which vendors are conducting activities in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), as well as determine if there are any unauthorized vendors using their site.

It might also help publishers troubleshoot any page loading issues, since vendors’ data collection might, in some cases, compromise the speed of page delivery.

The AOP said it is in the process of creating an Advertising Protocol that will establish the terms and obligations for vendors that are dropping cookies, and determine penalties for vendors that don’t comply with publishers’ standards.

Previous to this collaboration, The Media Trust regularly scanned cookies issued to visitors by publishers, and then issued a report to the publisher. Now, O’Neill said, the publishers’ organization and participating publishers can readily view the results, and vendors are participating in the effort to classify their own cookies and define their functions.

O’Neill added that, to his knowledge, this is the first effort where cookie data is validated by vendors.

Why this matters to marketing. The AOP/Media Trust collaboration is only the latest effort to get cookies under control, so to speak.

The Dutch company Screen6, for instance, recently launched a non-cookie way of tracking users, part of its effort to address the dropping cookie match rate. The Advertising ID Consortium and the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) DigiTrust effort are separately, and together, trying to simplify the current ways of tracking users, in part by implementing a common cookie.

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With consumer privacy regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act becoming a bigger factor, and customer experience becoming the key differentiator, brands and publishers know they have to get the multiple ways of identifying, tracking and targeting users under control.

In any scenario, a first step by publishers is getting a clear idea about just what tracking mechanisms are deployed on their sites.

This story first appeared on MarTech Today. For more on marketing technology, click here.

About The Author

Barry Levine covers marketing technology for Third Door Media. Previously, he covered this space as a Senior Writer for VentureBeat, and he has written about these and other tech subjects for such publications as CMSWire and NewsFactor. He founded and led the web site/unit at PBS station Thirteen/WNET; worked as an online Senior Producer/writer for Viacom; created a successful interactive game, PLAY IT BY EAR: The First CD Game; founded and led an independent film showcase, CENTER SCREEN, based at Harvard and M.I.T.; and served over five years as a consultant to the M.I.T. Media Lab. You can find him at LinkedIn, and on Twitter at xBarryLevine.

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