Last year, the two largest tech companies on the planet announced separately that they were taking steps to prevent tracking technologies from specifically identifying individuals as they move from site to site on the Internet. These ads make little effort to discredit third-party cookies that have been making money on the Internet for decades — as well as the numerous privacy threats they cause.
Over the years, cookies have permeated every aspect of our Internet experience. They went into websites everywhere. Today, they have the ability to track the behavior of Internet users online, no matter where they are, or how sensitive their connection is with a business that profits from data and insights. This increased ubiquitous, privacy lawyers’ hackles, that the Internet, full of cookies, was effectively designed to create comprehensive, fine-grained profiles that would be a big surveillance machine, eventually used to sell us goods. This wide range of cookies that power the Internet by fueling the multi-billion dollar online advertising industry gives Internet businesses the revenue they can give us their services for free. As long as we dislike or distrust them, I am not sure we can do without them.
Now that the two primary gatekeepers of the Internet are ready to remove them, let’s finally see how the cookie breaks.
The reactions to the imminent death of a third party cookie are interesting. Companies that rely on them to provide personalized services are realizing that their businesses are being cut at the knees and trying to find work-around areas. Businesses with access to first-party data (such as fast-moving consumer goods companies and the like) are newly appreciating the value of their direct consumer channels and re-engineering their operations without relying on third-party data. . All data collectors, regardless of where they get their data from, should prioritize privacy over how they work.
Privacy activists, for their part, were somewhat reluctant to celebrate this as a success. While the world without third-party cookies is definitely developing, they are concerned that the technology that will replace it will end up concentrating power in the hands of some tech giants. Although the elimination of cross-platform tracking is a relief to short-term users, they are concerned that we do not know what the long-term consequences of being divided into anonymous coordinates for the purposes of federal learning will be.
This is not the first time we have tried to get rid of the internet from its cookie siege. I already wrote about the Solid project – the last attempt by Tim Berners-Lee to save his creation from it. Solid provides us with a way to gain more direct control over how Internet companies use the data and information we upload to their websites and Internet services. It allows us to create personal data stores of information that are under our special control and release information only to the social media platforms we allow and comply with the terms we specify.
The problem is, all of these solutions are just band-aids. The only way to keep the cycles of Internet machine turning is to accept that the advertising model is here and to find new, more acceptable ways to gather the data needed for that model.
But there are alternatives. Many Internet-based services already work in the subscription model. While streaming music services offer a wide range of music, podcasts and other audio formats in lieu of usage-incognito flat fees, streaming video services allow us to choose from a wide range of content in exchange for a reasonable monthly charge. By charging a small annuity fee from a large number of customers, streaming services can completely ignore advertising. But streaming is relatively new to the bunch of internet services and it is designed from the ground up. Is it possible to apply similar solutions to more traditional Internet services?
For much of its existence, the Internet has provided knowledge through text. We access information through blogs, websites and search engines, all of which provide knowledge primarily through text-based and always-free interfaces. The ability to surf freely from one site to another, falling under rabbit-holes at hyperlink clicks, is one of the main reasons we go online. Adding a subscription layer to it feels almost sacred.
Furthermore, we have already started looking like that. In the meantime, there has been a steady expansion of pavilions. Growing creators are making at least part of their content available for a fee — from the most influential news organizations to the smaller standalone platforms that deliver niche content. Services such as Substock rely on this idea, which makes it possible for individual authors to pay in a way that was not previously possible. Can we imagine that this is the best business model for the future internet?
There is also a podcast titled Rahul Mathen Partner and Ex Machina on Trigal. His Twitter handle @Matton