Facebook Pixel Update Explained: What Is A First Party Cookie?

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If you run any Facebook advertising you've likely gotten an email in the past few weeks with information on a pixel update.  Here's what it says:

Important Facebook Pixel Update

Hi Tom,

On October 24, Facebook will begin offering businesses a first-party cookie option with the Facebook pixel. This change is in line with updates made by other online platforms, as use of first-party cookies for ads and site analytics is becoming the preferred approach by some browsers.

Businesses have long relied on cookies to serve ads to relevant audiences and understand visits to their sites. Up until now, Facebook has used its pixel — powered by third-party cookies — for website analytics, ad targeting, and ad measurement. This new option will also help advertisers, publishers, and developers continue to get accurate analytics about traffic to their websites.

Businesses can opt out of first-party cookies by updating their pixel settings in Events Manager.

The controls people have over ads on Facebook in Ads Preferences will not change. Our Business Tools Terms also still require businesses to clearly disclose how they use cookies and share data collected on their sites with third parties, so we recommend businesses review their cookie-related disclosures. To learn more about this update, visit the Help Center.

You are registered as an admin of these Facebook Ad Accounts which have Facebook pixels:

None. You aren't registered as an admin of a Facebook Ad Account that owns a pixel. Please check any pixels associated with your Business Manager account.

Thanks,

The Facebook Ads Team

What does this mean for you?

For years now since the inception of cookies most ad and analytics platforms use third-party cookies, but recently certain browsers have blocked or announced plans to block third-party cookies because of all the data privacy concerns that have been circulating.  Facebook's latest update is not only in line with their privacy issues, but also on popular browsers.

Let's start from the beginning.

What is a browser cookie?

A cookie is just a small text file that is dropped on your device (typically browser) when you visit a website.  There are many uses for cookies: saved logins, shopping carts, game scores, user profiles, analytics, advertising, ad frequency capping, ad targeting and retargeting.  There is nothing inherently wrong with cookies, but they can be used for shady purposes in regards to user data.  Imagine every time you add a product to your shopping cart on an e-commerce website, you then close your browser and open it back up.  Without cookies you would lose what was in your shopping cart every time.  Imagine logging onto your email app and every single time typing your user-name and password.  That data is all stored through the use of cookies.  

Cookies simplify and customize your web experience.  This also allows advertisers to better target products and services.  This can be as simple as only showing ads regarding pregnancy products to women vs men.

What is the difference between a first-party cookie and a third-party cookie?

From a technical standpoint there is no difference in how they work or the data they can track.  First-party cookies are issues directly by the website a user is visiting while third-party cookies are created by someone else.  For example, if you visited amazon.com and they cookied your browser to track your shopping behavior that would be a first-party cookie.  If they were using a Facebook pixel, historically a Facebook owned cookie would be dropped in your browser.  That's a third-party cookie because you visited Amazon.com, not Facebook.com.  

From a user standpoint, it's difficult to know who's doing what with your data.  Cookies can be blocked as well through private/incognito windows, Safari and Firefox by default blocks third-party cookies, most browsers allow you to customize cookie settings, software to block cookies, and ad blockers.  Relying on third-party cookies is becoming more of a challenge as these blockers are increasing in usage based on the media bringing light to privacy concerns and not necessarily doing the best job in explaining.

Because cookies store user data they have been recognized as a threat to user privacy.  Recently there was a lot of talk about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe which took effect on May 25th this year.  You'll notice a lot of websites you go to now have a privacy/cookie policy announcement which is as a result of this initiative.  

Now back to Facebook the and recent notification all advertising account admins are getting about the latest pixel update to first-party cookies.  The primary driver of this changes is Safari and Firefox changing how they handle third-party cookies where they are automatically blocked, but you can manually opt into them.  This potentially resulted in a lot of lost data for Facebook advertisers.  Facebook switching to first-party cookies eliminates that issue as well as many privacy concerns users may have.  Google and Microsoft already made the change earlier this year.  

How does the Facebook first-party cookie solution work?

When a user clicks on a Facebook served ad a unique string gets added to the URL.  If there are pixels on the website that are opted in to share first-party cookie data with Facebook, the URL parameter will get written into the browser as a first-party cookie.  In the events manager on Facebook ads you'll be able to manage this setting and opt out if you'd like.  This officially launches on October 24th. For the vast majority of advertisers receiving this notification, there is no further action needed.  You may even see improvements in the retargeting data.



If you’d like more information on this or any help with Facebook advertising and pixel management calls us or send us a message. We’re here to help.