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What are first, second and third party cookies?

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First, second, and third-party data have been around for quite some time. The majority just wasn’t aware of the distinction between them. The discussion really started when Google and Apple introduced application and software updates that affect the collection of third-party cookies. I get lots of questions about cookies. This article covers the definitions of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd party cookies including examples. I’m using layman’s terms here, because not everyone is a techie – but everyone should know about it.

A cookie is a text file that contains data. It contains information about the user who visits the website. This way, if you close the browser and then open it again, you won’t have to put in your username and password on that website. Cookies could also store information about the items in your shopping cart. So when you leave the website to come back later, the items will still be in your basket. Cookies also store information about visited pages or other behavioural data. Example: some website show relevant content based on your reading patterns. Netflix does this with recommended series or films. As you can start to see: cookies are the basis of creating great customer experiences.

Who are the parties anyway?

There are at least three parties (excluding you) to play this game:

  • The website you currently visit (
  • An advertisement server / ad server (
  • A website that monetizes its reach by showing ads to its readers (

I will drill down into more detail below.

What are first-party cookies?

The website you currently visit stores information about your visit. They do that by using cookies. Because the cookie is created and stored by the website you currently visit, we call them first-party cookies. They store information about sessions, viewed pages or items in your basket. They can also store information about your login, or favourite topics. The website builder basically chooses which data points he will collect in order to optimize your website experience. More technically said: first-party cookies are stored under the same domain as the one you currently visit.

Simply said, first party cookies are set by the web server from the website’s own webserver.

What are third-party cookies?

Third-party cookies are pieces of information that are not created by and not stored by the website you currently visit. But they do store information about your behavior, and your web visit. It’s used by (hence the name) a third-party. They usually include providers of advertising, retargeting, analytics and tracking services.

Suppose you’re shopping for books at A third-party cookie stores information about products you viewed, products you clicked or added to your basket. This way, information on your user behavior on is passed on to Doubleclick. Then, when you visit another website like, Doubleclick uses that information to display products you recently viewed or similar products while you are browsing that other website. This is called remarketing or retargeting.

Simply said, third party cookies are set by servers that are not from the website you’re visiting.

Example of third-party cookies

How this technically works: it starts with who has set-up retargeting ads through an adserver like Doubleclick. They do this to because they want to seduce you to come back to their website after you left. During your visit at, the website loads a piece of code from an ad server like Doubleclick. That piece of code collects information about your visit to, for example, a television you just viewed. When you leave and you’re visiting, the newspaper website loads a piece of code from that same ad server. Doubleclick’s cookie recognizes you as the user who viewed a television.

Based on’s advertising goals configuration (say: complete your purchase), Doubleclick will load an advertisement about that television while you are reading What does get out of this? They get paid to show ads to their readers, either by impressions, clicks or purchases performance.

What are second-party cookies?

Second-party cookies are not considered cookies. There’s either first or third party cookies. Cookies that are either stored by the domain you’re visiting, or by another domain (like the example). The name second party stems from the second-party data subject, which I’ll cover in another article. It basically means two parties who agreed on sharing the cookies. So you have a first-party cookie, it’s stored by the website you visited. The whole file is then transferred to another party by some kind of mutual agreement or partnership.

If you have any questions about how the blocking of third-party cookies by iOS and Chrome will likely affect your business and how to cope with it, get in touch with me. I’m happy to assess your situation, and how to move forward.

Does Google Chrome block cookies?

All commonly used browsers support cookies. There are a couple of browsers that block third party cookies to maintain their user’s privacy. Google Chrome will stop supporting third party cookies. This will have severe implications on the digital marketing landscape as digital marketers rely on remarketing both for branding and direct-response advertising purposes. Fortunately, according to the official Google Blog, Google does not plan to stop supporting third party cookies by the end of 2023.

In that same blog, Google announced that they’re working on several technologies that enable marketers to adapt to the new situation.

Marketing without third party cookies

This leaves us with the question: how are we going to deploy our marketing tactics if there’s only limited to no opportunities to target new and existing audiences with the lack of third party cookies?

From a holistical marketing point of view, this means that now is the time to double down on befriending and connecting with your audience. It’s time to stop messing around and really start caring about getting to now your fans. And if you do, you’ll be able to connect to them, they’ll be happy to share their data with you – because you care and because you deliver value that matters to them.

Find that sweetspot to dial in with your most valuable audience, offer them value right from the start, drive your conversion rates up by nailing your landing page, product copy and goodies like free valuable information, so they will opt-in to get more of that. And then, you’ll have a true engaged fan, and you’ll never have to worry about remarketing with the use of third party cookies again.

The EEA will strictly start auditing companies on GDPR compliance. This means you’re risking fines if you don’t comply with GDPR regulatory measures – so make sure you comply. Second, if you’re willing to risk the fine you’ll still be left in dust by big daddy Google since Google will limit sending hits to your analytics tools. Also, it will limit the use of audience signals in advertising and it will limit the funcions of audience remarketing lists in your Google ads platform.

Make sure you comply for three reasons:

  • Eliminate the risk to be fined for not complying to GDPR measures
  • Keep a fully functioning google ads platform
  • It’s customer friendly (you don’t wanna be spied upon without your consent, right?)

If you need help, we offer a complete done for you implementation service at fixed rates. Contact them here.

I'm Bas Gosewisch

I’m into marketing, growth and fitness and I’ve been helping clients such as &C, Longines Global Champions and many more companies with direct response digital marketing in one way or another.

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