We’ve already discussed Chrome’s cookie shutdown, the ramifications from targeting and measurement, and what corporations are doing about it. Now I’m here to inform you that, contrary to popular belief, the last nail in the cookie coffin isn’t the main narrative.

Published in May, 70% of the UK has already gotten there first, completing their own personal cookie cut-off on a weekly or more basis.

Whether through incognito browsing, clearing or opting out of cookies, using a VPN – or all of the above – the majority of the UK population has already voted with their feet, regardless of what ad tech, Google, or regulators decide in the future. If more evidence were required, a second Nano study conducted in July covering Germany revealed an even larger percentage – 76% of a 5,000-person sample were following the same strategy.

READ MORE: Ad Tech Companies Are Being Assessed Based On How Open They Are With Their Log Files

We wanted to know why, in the most fundamental terms, for our next study. We’d be a lot closer to knowing how to stop the same thing happening again after cookies shatter if we understood why people disguise their personal data, when and how they do it.

First, the most popular reason for masking was to avoid retargeting, with 49% hiding their personal data ‘to get rid of adverts monitoring them online after they’ve searched for something’. Retargeting as a method remains unpopular with the general public, whether accomplished by third-party or first-party cookies, IP addresses, or other means.

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In terms of devices, mobile was the most commonly used masking location. Mobile has a 58% greater rate of obscuring personal data than desktop across all masking approaches. This, if anything, raises the stakes for what advertising does next. Because mobile dominates online advertising, accounting for three-quarters (76%) of UK programmatic spend, according to Insider Intelligence/eMarketer.

But why mobile specifically? Part of it could be due to a ‘time spent’ element – the device we use the most in our everyday lives. However, respondents indicated the medium feels private in a manner that others do not: the majority (59%) of those who conceal on mobile say they do so because people-based targeting feels too personal in such an atmosphere.

Just as social and TV services are increasingly experimenting with paid subscriber tiers that remove commercials – and targeting – there is another significant finding for advertisers here. The study clearly shown that the adoption of privacy-enhancing goods and services rises in tandem with earnings. Higher-income households are 65% more likely to utilize a VPN and 69% more likely to use private browsing than lower-income households.

READ MORE: The ‘Death Of The Undifferentiated SSP’ Is Not Affecting Every Ad Tech Company

In order to delve deeper into the reasons why people disguise their data, Nano questioned customers how they felt about the usage of specific traits in targeting – and which they thought were ethical or unethical. People are most concerned about their household income and search history, followed by their location. Gender, age, and content/context were deemed the least troublesome.

With cookies being phased out, the most popular option being offered is to profile and establish cross-site profiles using the individual user’s email address, or occasionally even mobile number.

Chrome’s cookie deactivation in 2024 will undoubtedly draw more attention to – and business for – these post-cookie IDs. However, outside of the confines of advertising, they are perhaps little known.

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Nano questioned consumers how they would react if a corporation targeted ads using these datapoints as a cookie replacement to see what they thought of them. As a result, nearly half (49%) stated they would be more likely to hide their data. Interestingly, Nano’s earlier study, the Tipping Point, found that a comparable proportion (52%) would be more likely to choose a brand if it did not collect or utilize personal information for advertising purposes.

37% stated they were less likely to spend money with brands that used these strategies. More than a third (35%) said it would make them less trusting of the organization. Companies could offer a discount to 19% of respondents in exchange for using their data in this manner.

Not internet-wide CCTV, believe me.
The message appears to be clear: whatever the disadvantages or objections to cookies, their use was arguably never personal in the manner that an individual’s email or cell number is. If approval for the use of these datapoints as a cookie substitute is truly “unambiguous, freely given, specific, and informed,” firms using them may have difficulty reaching meaningful opt-in rates.

Outside of advertising, the public appears to be wary of any targeting strategy that involves cross-site profiling – essentially, internet-wide CCTV. It’s the same reason that, although being technically more privacy-friendly, Google’s own cookie alternative, Topics API, was panned by privacy advocates.

Chrome cookie termination in 2024 is, in some ways, a red herring. We should actually be looking for their replacement. Never before has there been so much at stake in advertising.

Brands seeking to develop consumer trust and loyalty should investigate ad targeting strategies that do not feel like surveillance and, in some cases, do not employ people-based data at all.


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