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In a cookieless future, half-baked marketing won’t do

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In a cookieless future, half-baked marketing won’t do


Third-party cookies are like Cretaceous dinosaurs. They’re munching away on consumers’ data while asteroids lobbed by Google, Mozilla, Apple, and others are on the brink of obliterating the current marketing ecosystem. 

Google is planning to phase out these online tracking tools by 2022. For its part, Apple plans to make its mobile device ID—known as identifier for advertisers, or IDFA—opt-in only: a move that will prevent cross-application tracking of site visitors. Their plans are only two examples of a far broader pivot toward consumer privacy that’s also been manifested in expansive pro-privacy laws such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act. 

For better or worse, the internet has evolved to run on consumers’ data: the data that “third parties” such as advertisers and marketers collect so that retailers and other businesses can track website visitors, improve their customers’ experiences, target ads, and figure out what visitors check out on other websites as they move from site to site. Now that the tech giants have either banned these trackers outright or plan to banish them from their web browsers, how many businesses are ready for a “cookieless” future?

Preparing for the cookie-pocalypse

The answer, unfortunately, is not many. A recent Adobe survey found that only 37% of companies are “very prepared” for a world without third-party cookies. Many companies are taking a wait-and-see approach—an attitude that typically results in “last-minute, short-term fixes and workarounds,” according to Amit Ahuja, vice president for Experience Cloud product and strategy at Adobe.

But the impending phase-out of third-party cookies doesn’t have to entail panicked flailing. Rather, a future without the trackers holds opportunity for businesses that learn how to ride the change, keeping experiences at the personalized level customers have come to expect, even without the use of third-party data. The time to strike is now, Ahuja says: “The fact that 63% of organizations are not prepared for a cookieless world points to a tremendous opportunity in moving to first-party data strategies now to create long-term differentiation.”

You snooze, you lose. But before delving into the wake-up strategy, you may well ask, Why should I care?

Consumers are rightfully demanding transparency about how their data is collected and handled. Who can blame them? In recent years, organizations have suffered from massive data leaks that have led to billions of breached emails and passwords. That suffering is not without consequence. Consumers are putting the hurt on companies when they fumble data in this way. According to Gartner’s Brand Survey 2019, 81% of customers refuse to patronize a company that they don’t trust, and 89% expect to disengage from one that breaches their trust. “Consumers must have ultimate control over their data and how it’s being used by brands. This is crucial to earning consumer trust,” says Ahuja.

But consumers still expect a high degree of customization: customization that’s previously been enabled by data from third-party cookies. “As consumers, we all have a high expectation for personalization as we engage with brands,” Ahuja says. “Especially with everybody having moved so much of their interactions to digital over the past year, it’s now higher than it’s ever been.” Without third-party data, customer experience is going to suffer, as will companies.

That’s why they need to care—and to prepare, Ahuja says. The loss of third-party cookies will have an effect on companies’ ability to find new customers for their products or services, as well as retain and maximize the value of their existing customers.

A not-entirely cookieless future

What can you do about it? First, keep in mind that the traditional use cases for third-party cookies—for example, using data to personalize the customer experience—won’t disappear. Rather, they’ll evolve. Companies need to maximize the value of first-party data: the data collected from their own domains about customers. First-party data isn’t going away: it’s only the third-party cookies that are being phased out, as in, ones that don’t belong to the main domain opened on users’ browsers but are instead loaded by third-party servers, such as ad servers, on publishers’ websites. “Brands must now shift the focus to first-party data strategies to effectively personalize experiences across the customer journey,” says Ahuja.

Companies are still going to collect data and share or buy it from trusted partners. They need to ensure that consumer consent is honored, and the data is actionable—that is, that companies can act on the data, in real time, and at scale to deliver personalized experiences. And they need to continue to find new customers and maximize the value of existing ones. To do that, here’s a mantra to keep in mind: real time or bust.

Relevant personalization needs to happen instantly, Ahuja says. There can’t be a day of delay between when customers buy something and when they stop seeing ads. They also need to start receiving emails right away, not days after. “We consider it a requirement for a future-proof data strategy: to have a system that’s able to update customer profiles in real time, as new actions are taken across channels or as they’ve opted out or opted into different engagements, to be able to then activate those profiles with governance applied instantly for end point personalization,” Ahuja says.

Third-party cookie deprecation doesn’t have to be a cookie-pocalypse. It can instead be a catalyst: one that gives businesses an opportunity to take a step back and figure it all out, to ask themselves how they will improve their customer experiences. To make things even more interesting, businesses will have to handle the data while also ensuring that they’re honoring consumer privacy and complying with regional restrictions.

The asteroids are on their way. Now is the time to catalyze.

This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.

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The US Supreme Court just gutted the EPA’s power to regulate emissions

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The US Supreme Court just gutted the EPA’s power to regulate emissions


What was the ruling?

The decision states that the EPA’s actions in a 2015 rule, which included caps on emissions from power plants, overstepped the agency’s authority.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” the decision reads. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

Only Congress has the power to make “a decision of such magnitude and consequence,” it continues. 

This decision is likely to have “broad implications,” says Deborah Sivas, an environmental law professor at Stanford University. The court is not only constraining what the EPA can do on climate policy going forward, she adds; this opinion “seems to be a major blow for agency deference,” meaning that other agencies could face limitations in the future as well.

The ruling, which is the latest in a string of bombshell cases from the court, fell largely along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion, and he was joined by his fellow conservatives: Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

What is the decision all about?

The main question in the case was how much power the EPA should have to regulate carbon emissions and what it should be allowed to do to accomplish that job. That question was occcasioned by a 2015 EPA rule called the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan targeted greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, requiring each state to make a plan to cut emissions and submit it to the federal government.

Several states and private groups immediately challenged the Clean Power Plan when it was released, calling it an overreach on the part of the agency, and the Supreme Court put it on hold in 2016. After a repeal of the plan during Donald Trump’s presidency and some legal back-and-forth, a Washington, DC, district court ruled in January 2021 that the Clean Power Plan did fall within the EPA’s authority.

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How to track your period safely post-Roe

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How to track your period safely post-Roe


3. After you delete your app, ask the app provider to delete your data. Just because you removed the app from your phone does not mean the company has gotten rid of your records. In fact, California is the only state where they are legally required to delete your data. Still, many companies are willing to delete it upon request. Here’s a helpful guide from the Washington Post that walks you through how you can do this.

Here’s how to safely track your period without an app.

1. Use a spreadsheet. It’s relatively easy to re-create the functions of a period tracker in a spreadsheet by listing out the dates of your past periods and figuring out the average length of time from the first day of one to the first day of the next. You can turn to one of the many templates already available online, like the period tracker created by Aufrichtig and the Menstrual Cycle Calendar and Period Tracker created by Laura Cutler. If you enjoy the science-y aspect of period apps, templates offer the ability to send yourself reminders about upcoming periods, record symptoms, and track blood flow.

2. Use a digital calendar. If spreadsheets make you dizzy and your entire life is on a digital calendar already, try making your period a recurring event, suggests Emory University student Alexa Mohsenzadeh, who made a TikTok video demonstrating the process

Mohsenzadeh says that she doesn’t miss apps. “I can tailor this to my needs and add notes about how I’m feeling and see if it’s correlated to my period,” she says. “You just have to input it once.” 

3. Go analog and use a notebook or paper planner. We’re a technology publication, but the fact is that the safest way to keep your menstrual data from being accessible to others is to take it offline. You can invest in a paper planner or just use a notebook to keep track of your period and how you’re feeling. 

If that sounds like too much work, and you’re looking for a simple, no-nonsense template, try the free, printable Menstrual Cycle Diary available from the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research.

4. If your state is unlikely to ban abortion, you might still be able to safely use a period-tracking app. The crucial thing will be to choose one that has clear privacy settings and has publicly promised not to share user data with authorities. Quintin says Clue is a good option because it’s beholden to EU privacy laws and has gone on the record with its promise not to share information with authorities. 

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Composable enterprise spurs innovation

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Composable enterprise spurs innovation


Overall, 74% of companies accelerated plans to move to the cloud by more than a year, jettisoning legacy technologies and operating models to embrace data and applications, according to business analysis firm ZK Research.

A key part of that transformation relied on using applications, usually in the cloud, that integrated apps and data with low-code functionality to create more efficient workflows, more quickly than ever. Low-code is a software development approach for building processes and functionality with little or no code, which allows non-software developers to create applications.

Companies that structure daily workflows around these so-called “composable applications”—often called composable enterprises—have a much tighter relationship between technology and business units and can quickly assemble new applications and services at a fraction of the historical cost.

Composable applications provide a way to build on or add to applications in an easy way—think of building blocks: the work has already been done and additional functionality can be added to the foundational ability.

That flexibility is necessary for the variability of the current workplace and economy, says Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. “We’re moving to an era where in any given moment, you could have everyone in the office, no one in the office, or every reasonable combination in between,” Kerravala says. “You could have all your shoppers online, only a few, or—depending on your industry—no shoppers online and every possible combination between. The pandemic has created these dramatic shifts in the way we learn, the way we live, and the way we work, based on forces that are outside of anyone’s control.”

When it comes to cloud infrastructure, companies have often pursued half measures—adopting it in such a way as to reinforce old business models, creating private clouds that mimic their on-premises infrastructure. But composability gives enterprises the ability to adapt to changes in operations and in their markets by creating new applications to support needed workflows without hiring additional or outside software developers to implement the changes.

Composable cloud services further liberate companies from relying on running their own software instances solely to customize the code to their needs. Composable applications bring together cloud, customization, integration, and workflow management, allowing companies to be flexible and innovate quickly.

When businesses suffered pandemic disruptions to critical business functions—such as call centers, IT support, and medical administration—composable applications allowed firms to adapt and continue. In one case, a company needed to extend its call-center system, which was hosted in a controlled environment, to allow access to employees through web browsers running on an Amazon virtual machine, says David Lee, vice president of products at RingCentral, an enterprise communications platform that has focused on composability. “They had to make these changes work overnight at employees’ homes, and that was a great challenge for a lot of organizations,” Lee says. “Companies well-adapted to potential change actually made these transitions very easy by composing new applications and workflows.”

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